Haydn's Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross exist in versions for string quartet and for chorus, but this orchestral composition is the original version of the work, commissioned in 1785 for the observances of a Spanish religious order. Actually, for total authenticity, biblical readings should alternate with the seven somber central movements Haydn composed; these are framed by an introduction and a concluding terremoto or earthquake. It would be worth trying to perform the work that way. As it stands, the sequence of slow movements is a challenge for performers -- perhaps especially in the orchestral version. Performing the work on a string quartet focuses the listener's attention and conditions him or her to listen within restricted boundaries, but an orchestral conductor has to work harder to keep the focus. This low-key performance by the Orquesta Barroca de Sevilla under Barry Sargent does not do the job. This group specializes in music of the late eighteenth century as well as that of the Baroque, but here they fall into a tendency common to many Baroque groups that venture forward in time: they overemphasize the inner voices of accompanimental chords, resulting in shapeless sequences of harmonic motion. This music, if it is to work well (and it is very powerful when it does), needs an inward, highly expressive quality, but here it comes off as stolid and formal. The orchestra is obviously capable of very delicate playing, on display in the "Sitio" movement (track 6) among other places, and the recording, made in a Spanish municipal auditorium, is well attuned to the quiet performance. But this disc is unlikely to make converts of those who have avoided this unique Haydn work.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Die Sieben letzten Worte unseres Erlösers am Kreuze (The Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross), for orchestra, H. 20/1 A|