- Die Sieben letzten Worte unseres Erlösers am Kreuze (The Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross), oratorio, H. 20/2
Haydn's "Die sieben letzten Worte unseres Erlösers am Kreuze" (The Seven Last Words of Our Savior on the Cross) is unique in his output. Commissioned in 1785 as an orchestral work for Good Friday by a church in Cádiz, Spain, it posed Haydn considerable problems as he tried to reconcile the general structural principles of the Classical era with a commission that required him, in effect, to write seven slow movements in a row -- and, at a deeper level, to write a really somber work in a musical language made for humor and sunny lyricism. The seven movements, plus opening and central introductions and a final "Terremoto" or earthquake, stand in contrast with one another in both texture and tonality, although all are indeed dark in hue. Haydn apparently was pleased with his solution, for he arranged the work for string quartet and gave permission to Hummel to create a piano version. The final chapter in the work's remarkable story was added when the Baron van Swieten, later the librettist for "Die Schöpfung" (The Creation) and "Die Jahreszeiten" (The Seasons), pieced together German texts describing Christ's crucifixion to Haydn's music in 1794. Haydn, believing that he could better a previous vocal version (whose words van Swieten employed, along with those by another poet and some suggestions by Haydn himself), reworked the piece yet again, and the result was the small oratorio-like composition heard here. Each vocal movement begins with Christ's words and then proceeds to an embodiment of the reactions of the spectators. Despite the music's patchwork genesis, the final mixture of music and text is natural and moving. The Kammerchor Stuttgart (Stuttgart Chamber Choir) and Württembergisches Kammerorchester Heilbronn (Württemberg Chamber Orchestra of Heilbronn) under conductor Frieder Bernius deliver a superb performance of the work, one fully equal to any by major names. Their approach to the music is reverential and devotional in the extreme. The opening introduction seems almost lackadaisical at first with its gentle string attacks, but soon enough a unified conception becomes clear. The soloists, especially soprano Inga Nielsen, are ideal partners in the interpretation with their rich but not overly operatic sound, and bass Matthias Hölle makes it down to the low E flat that marks the crucifixion and is one of Haydn's brilliant strokes here. Best of all is the Kammerchor Stuttgart, one of the many little-heralded German regional choirs that maintains remarkable levels of musicianship. It is exquisitely sensitive to the large arcs of motion in Haydn's slow music, and pitch is rock-solid in quite difficult music for choral singers. This is a magnificent and very moving rendering of Haydn's most personal piece of sacred music.
|Label:||Profil - G Haenssler|