Haydn, Die sieben letzten Worte unseres Erlösers am Kreuze, Le Concert des Nations, J. Savall
(released on October 13, 2009)
Alia Vox AVDVD 9868
This is Jordi Savall's second recording of the work (there are several other options, including by HIP ensembles), made in the church of Santa Cueva in Cádiz where the premiere took place (the CD version was already released two years ago). The performance is gorgeous: solemn, expansive, the sound captured in a way that preserves some (perhaps too much) of the place's cavernous acoustic, with rich strings and excellent playing on historical instruments most noticeable with the winds and brass. Savall made an attempt (unsuccessful) to recreate the original circumstances, by including a voice-over with the seven words read in Latin, and two sets of reflections on the seven words that can be played in a separate set of tracks, unfortunately without subtitles available, or read in the booklet. It is too bad that the work could not have been recorded with a priest's actual reflections on the seven words pronounced in the space as they were at the premiere: the reflections included here are not all that traditional (one of them would be considered downright heretical by Catholic theologians). So, this is unfortunately not so much a recreation as it is a modern adaptation.
With the church darkened, although the statues are not covered with black cloth, there is not much for the video to show, and some stock footage of Holy Week processions, in slow motion, is added as a diversion. The images of these very pious enactments, with statues and candles carried by members of confraternities (their hoods, of white and other colors, having a rather different visual connotation for American viewers), are a reminder of the secular bent of the reflections offered here. The idea that The Seven Last Words are some sort of humanistic work is silly: produced at the same time as the Paris symphonies, truly secular music, the Words were intended for church performance in one of the most Catholic countries at the time. Haydn's autograph score, likely sent to Spain to fulfill the commission, has been lost, but even though the orchestral sonatas did not use voices, Haydn's initial melody in each movement sets the corresponding Latin text, as if for a voice. Haydn had these texts printed under the first violin part at the start of each movement (they are printed together as an example in Daniel Heartz's Mozart, Haydn and Early Beethoven: 1781-1802). The effect is of vocal music transposed to instruments.