Haydn: Seven Last Words from the Cross

COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: Alia Vox
ALBUM TITLE: Haydn
WORKS: Seven Last Words from the Cross
PERFORMER: Le Concert des Nations/Jordi Savall
CATALOGUE NO: AVSA 9854
Haydn’s Seven Last Words were commissioned for Santa Cueva in Cádiz, and it’s certainly a gesture towards authenticity that Jordi Savall’s performance with his period-instrument orchestra is given in that very church. Whether the practice of draping the church’s walls, windows and pillars in black cloth (as was originally done in the chapel during Lent) was followed on this recording one does not know.

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At all events the sound is clear but also spacious, and the playing clean and rich. Savall shows an awareness not only of the music’s sense of drama, but also of its nobility of expression, solemnity and imaginative use of sonority. Haydn himself was wary of boring even the listener with a sequence of seven slow movements. (In fact there are eight, including the slow introduction. Only the short final representation of the earthquake is fast.) Yet Savall’s performance has a sense of pace that never negates Haydn’s tempo markings while always ensuring that there is a feeling of motion. This is as good a performance of the original version of the piece I have heard. To complete the liturgical context, Christ’s words are intoned before each movement, in Latin, as they would have been by a bishop on Good Friday 1786. George Hall