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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Die sieben letzten Worte unseres Erlosers am Kreuze, H.XX: 2 (1786)
(The Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross) - oratorio for soloists, chorus and orchestra
Introduction I
No. 1 – Vater, vergib ihnen (Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do)
No. 2 – Fürhwahr, ich sag’es dir (Verily, I say unto thee: Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise)
No. 3 – Frau, hier siehe deinen Sohn (Woman, behold thy son, behold thy mother!)
No. 4 – Mein Gott, mein Gott (My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?)
Introduction II
No. 5 – Jesus rufet (Jesus saith: Alas, I thirst!)
No. 6 – Es ist vollbracht (It is finished!)
No. 7 – Vater, in deine Hände (Into my hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit!)
Il Terremoto (The earthquake) (Das Erdbeben) Er ist nicht mehr (He has departed)
Arnold Schoenberg Choir
Concentus musicus Wien/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Recorded at the Casino Zogernitz, Vienna, Austria in October 1990, DDD
WARNER CLASSICS ELATUS 2564 60808-2 [62:43]

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Haydn was commissioned by the Canon of Cadiz Cathedral in Spain to compose instrumental music on, The seven last words of the Saviour on the Cross. The work was to be performed during Lent as an aid to meditation during Holy Week. The seven slow movements (Adagios) are sometimes referred to as ‘sonatas’ or ‘meditations’ and are intended to reflect the final utterances of Jesus on Mount Calvary.

The first meditation commences with the words: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do, with the final meditation ending the work with the words, Into my hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit! The complete oratorio is framed by a solemn introduction and concludes with a fast movement describing an earthquake. Haydn found composing the seven Adagios no easy task and stated, "The task of writing seven Adagios, one after the other, each lasting about ten minutes, without wearying the listeners, was by no means easy and I soon found that I could not restrict myself to the required timing."

Haydn originally composed The seven last words for full orchestra in 1786. A year later he scored an alternative version the for string quartet; which is said to be the most popular adaptation. Around the same time a publisher made a piano reduction of the work. In 1795 as Haydn was travelling through Passau on the Austro-German border he heard a performance of an arrangement of his Seven last words made by a choirmaster, Joseph Frieberth, who had added choral parts to Haydn’s original orchestral score. Haydn set about composing his own choral version and this is what we hear on the present release. Using a text by Baron Gottfried van Sweden, Haydn set the words for four soloists and chorus, adapting the original orchestral score and adding parts for the clarinet, contrabassoon and trombones. He also inserted a solemn Introduction for wind instruments between the fourth and fifth movements. This final version was first performed in Vienna in 1796 and published in 1801.

The oratorio is one of Haydn’s most spiritual and sublime compositions; a musical proclamation of Haydn’s affirmation of his Catholic faith in God. On this Elatus re-release Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducts his Concentus Musicus Wien and the Arnold Schoenberg Choir in a performance previously released, to much critical acclaim, in 1992 on Teldec. Harnoncourt’s performance is quite masterly in all respects and it is gratifying to have the work back in the catalogue on the mid-price Elatus label. Harnoncourt’s quartet of singers are splendidly chosen and well contrasted too, producing superbly focused tone of exceptional smoothness. Thye also display a wonderful purity that really draws the listener into the music. The lighter forces of the period orchestra Concentus Musicus Wien makes for increased transparency with fine detail. Harnoncourt’s interpretation is inspired and the orchestra play with great concentration and atmosphere.

The velvety recorded sound is perfectly judged and truthful and the annotation is concise and informative. This is a work of unparalleled beauty and reverence which remains Haydn’s hidden masterpiece. It should prove a revelation to those encountering the work for the first time. This Elatus release is one of the finest recordings of any choral works in the catalogues. Indispensable Haydn, indispensable music!

Michael Cookson

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