Haydn: The Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross

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COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: Alia Vox
WORKS: The Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross
PERFORMER: Le Concert des Nations/Jordi Savall (Cadiz, 2006)
CATALOGUE NO: AVDVD 9868 (NTSC system; PCM stereo; 16:9 picture format)

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Already issued on CD, this live 2006 performance of Haydn’s spiritual masterpiece is given in its original orchestral form in the location for which it was intended – the chapel of Santa Cueva in Cádiz – in an account that revives many of the circumstances of the first performance.

The venue’s walls have even been at least partially draped with black cloth, as they apparently were for the Good Friday ceremony back in 1787 – though for some reason authentic candlelight has been judged too visually warm, and a meagre, cold luminosity has been arranged by the modern lighting engineers. As well as the filming of the performance itself, the visuals cut away to show us elements of the distinctive penitential services, with their image-carrying processions and ornate and slightly sinister costumes. 

In addition, one can cue in the reading of each ‘word’ – the short Biblical texts representing Jesus’s final statements from the cross which inspired the work to begin with –
as well as substantial commentaries on the texts by Raimon Pannikar, a specialist in inter-religious dialogue, and by the Nobel prize-winning Portuguese writer, José Saramago.

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Played on period instruments, the performance itself is expertly motivated by Jordi Savall, achieving a fine blend of solemnity and austerity with intimacy of feeling. The acoustic takes some of the edge off the tone, but this is the ultimate in authentic performance. George Hall