Haydn: The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross; Gregorian responsaries

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COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: Claves
WORKS: The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross; Gregorian responsaries
PERFORMER: Carmina Quartet, Schola Romana Lucernensis/Roman Bannwart
CATALOGUE NO: CD 50-2002
Writing to his London publisher Forster, Haydn announced ‘a completely new work – divided into seven sonatas, the whole preceded by an introduction and concluded by a terremoto [earthquake], based on the words that Christ our Saviour spake on the cross – even inexperienced listeners will be deeply moved.’ Designed to fulfil a commission from Cádiz Cathedral and originally scored for orchestra, the cycle was reworked for string quartet – in which form it has been most frequently recorded – in 1787.

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The interpolation of the appropriate Holy Week responses between each of the seven sections is both novel and inspired. This traversal from the Carmina Quartet and the Schola Romana Lucernensis has impressive ritualistic gravity, while the Claves recording itself affords remarkable clarity and atmosphere. You may, of course, programme your CD player to exclude the vocal settings, but they’re so eloquently sung, and intertwine so naturally with Haydn’s instrumental meditations that to withhold them only diminishes the sublimity of the entire listening experience.

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The Carmina Quartet plays expertly, bringing abundant flair, poise and drama to the score without (as so often happens) over-romanticising it, as witnessed in the case of the Borodin Quartet’s account. Collectors requiring just Haydn’s settings alone will probably choose the Kodály Quartet’s outstanding Naxos coupling, with the two completed movements of Haydn’s last quartet, Op. 103. Taped early on in the Kodály’s Haydn odyssey, sonics don’t quite match the demonstration standards of later instalments in this bargain series. Authenticists, meanwhile, won’t fare better than with the Mosaïques Quartet version from Astrée. Michael Jameson