What does an East German performance of Haydn's deeply devotional Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross sound like? Good question: what could it sound like? It's not that the East Germans had become lesser musicians after the Communist Party took over the county -- they still had Dresden, Leipzig, and above all half of Berlin on their side of the iron curtain -- but that they had become aesthetic atheists, musicians whose interpretations were officially freed from the burden of what Marx described as the opiate of the masses. But what does that interpretive stance do to a performance of a work that is nothing if it's not profoundly religious? In the case of this 1980 recording by the Gewandhaus-Quartett, it means a beautifully played, lovingly interpreted, intensely concentrated, and strongly felt performance. From the opening Maestoso ed Adagio through the seven searing central slow movements to the closing Presto con tutta la forza, the Gewandhaus players deliver a performance of overwhelming power. One might wonder whether they believed as Haydn believed, but one cannot doubt that they mean every note they play. Captured in close, warm sound by Berlin Classics, this Seven Last Words may or may not be a religious experience -- who can possibly know? -- but it is surely an immensely satisfying aesthetic experience.
AllMusic Review by James Leonard
|Die Sieben letzten Worte unseres Erlösers am Kreuze (The Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross), for string quartet, H. 3/50-56|