Haydn

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COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: Zig Zag
ALBUM TITLE: Haydn: The Seven Last Words of Christ
WORKS: The Seven Last Words of Christ
PERFORMER: Alexei Lubimov (tangent piano)
CATALOGUE NO: ZZT 341

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Haydn’s Seven Last Words is almost never heard in its original orchestral form, let alone in the imposing choral version he made later. The familiar string quartet arrangement he supervised is a pale reflection of the orchestral score, though it’s certainly preferable to the anonymous keyboard adaptation, in which he had no hand (though he did approve it). If the concluding earthquake sounds weak when performed by four string players, its effect on an 18th-century piano is almost comical: not for nothing did Haydn reserve trumpets and drums for this moment, with its fff conclusion.

Alexei Lubimov has chosen to play the Seven Last Words on a tangent piano – a short-lived instrument whose strings were struck not by hammers, but by strips of wood. The sound can be beautiful, especially when the muting devices are used, and Lubimov’s playing is admirably expressive throughout. However, his liberal use of the sustaining pedal in the fifth Word is a far cry from the arid sound of pizzicato strings with which Haydn so vividly conveyed Christ’s words, ‘I thirst’. Altogether, a curiosity, and while it’s hard to fault Lubimov’s playing, not everyone will find the variety of tone he draws from the instrument sufficient to hold the attention through an unbroken series of eight slow movements.

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Misha Donat