Haydn: The Seven Last Words

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: LPO
WORKS: The Seven Last Words
PERFORMER: Lisa Milne (soprano), Ruxandra Donose (mezzo-soprano), Andrew Kennedy (tenor), Christopher Maltman (baritone); LPO & Chorus/Vladimir Jurowski
CATALOGUE NO: LPO-0051

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Haydn composed his Seven Last Words in 1785, producing seven slow orchestral movements, each representing one of the final statements of Christ on the Cross.

To these he added a slow introduction and – the only fast music in the piece – a final, furious earthquake. Then nine years later he heard a version for chorus and orchestra arranged by other hands, and decided to make his own. He also created a version for string quartet and approved (though did not himself arrange) a keyboard adaptation. 

For this live LPO account from the Royal Festival Hall, Vladimir Jurowski has created a new, mixed edition. Basically what we hear is Haydn’s standard choral version; but Jurowski has interpolated, before the choral movements get underway, substantial sections of the original orchestral versions as lead-ins.

It inevitably adds to the length of the piece and alters its proportions. He comments that ‘the oratorio version…became an obstacle for people to understand the true greatness of the music’. Yet that’s what Haydn wrote.

But he does show a vital sense of motion in presenting this music – an essential challenge, given its predominant slowness – as well as pointing up the work’s intensity and revealing its inner parts. A strange and solemn extra movement Haydn added for the choral version is particularly potent in his hands.

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The orchestra adopts period manners in this presentation with conviction, and the four soloists and chorus are fine, though the sound needs more focus, with the chorus registering as distant and breathy, and the soloists, too, sidelined. George Hall