Haydn: Die sieben letzten Worte (The Seven Last Words) – Orchestral Version

Reviewed on Mon 20 May, 2019

A commanding conductor with a recreative imagination is at the helm, affirming the crucial importance of also discerning feeling and exposing the emotional soul hidden behind the notation of every slow movement.

Daring to dig deep, daring to be emotional, daring to throw caution to the winds. They were the objectives of six string quartets formed from students of the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester when last March they in turn played each of The Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross at a Chamber Music Weekend titled ‘Joseph Haydn: Innovation and Inspiration’. Memories of those visionary performances arise as Riccardo Minasi reveals his quest to probe the excruciating pain and anguish of a repugnant event; and does so through the medium of an almost complete 18th-century orchestra (no clarinets) with instruments of the period, one or two flutes on the top line, and two or four horns playing at written pitch (except in Sonatas 1 & 2, when a pair play in basso B flat or C). And Minasi begins as he means to continue, the D minor Introduction Maestoso et Adagio as directed, dotted notes tight and crisply exact, dynamic range wide, high drama dramatizing a gory scene. A commanding conductor with a recreative imagination is at the helm, affirming the crucial importance of also discerning feeling and exposing the emotional soul hidden behind the notation of every slow movement; and does so through skilled internal balancing, transparent textures, expressive phrasing, subtle gradations of tone from pianissimo upwards, and with structural integrity maintained by observing all repeats. There are passing impressions that some of these movements eg Sonata 4 could have been played slower, but Minasi’s artistic acumen largely overcomes the difficulties of contrasting seven movements marked from Grave to Adagio via Lento and Largo. And he ends as he began, with an Earthquake of taut, concentrated intensity. If tempted, supplement this excellent performance with Haydn’s own versions for string quartet (The Lindsays), and for chorus with orchestra augmented to include clarinets and trombones plus an additional movement, an austere Introduzione in A minor, for wind band only (Nikolaus Harnoncourt). Riches indeed.
–Nalen Anthoni