The keyboard version of Haydn's Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross is the least often heard of the three versions of the work produced under the composer's supervision (the other two are for orchestra and string quartet). Even among the existing performances for keyboard, those for harpsichord or occasionally piano predominate; performances on the clavichord are rare indeed. Yet there's a great deal to be said for the clavichord reading by Finnish keyboardist Aapo Häkkinen offered here. The work occupies a unique middle ground between the representational and the abstract: it is subjective. Its seven central "sonatas" would, in the work's original performances or even in the minds of those who purchased the keyboard score, have been preceded by scripture readings, which the music was intended to amplify. Perhaps one of the religious organizations that mount regular concert series will try performing the work this way sometime. It is interior, and the clavichord, which was the household keyboard instrument of the eighteenth century, the instrument one played for one's own enjoyment rather than as a performances for others, emphasizes this interiority. Furthermore, the clavichord, like the piano but unlike the harpsichord, is capable of dynamic variation and especially of variation in accent. The moods of the individual sections, closely tied to the events of Jesus Christ's final hours, dramatically shift in Häkkinen's performance, from the calmly oracular "Today thou shalt be with me in paradise" (Sonata II) to the somber "It is finished" (Sonata VI). The work concludes with a depiction of the earthquake that follows the crucifixion in biblical accounts; Häkkinen stretches the clavichord to its limits here, with impressive results. The earthquake seems a logical conclusion to the piece in a way that's difficult to accomplish with other instruments. Häkkinen's own booklet (in Finnish, German, and English) is a strong point; he emphasizes the little-known point that during Haydn's lifetime The Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross was one of the composer's most popular works, and both in writing and at the clavichord keyboard he has contributed new insights as to why that was so.
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|