24 March 2015


It's a challenge to an atheist in the 21st century that this music of Haydn, written in the seventeenth century and a recitation of the words of Christ on the cross may be amongst the best music ever written. Certainly I thought that as I was listening to this thing of immense beauty, but I think it often enough for other music, too, so confusion can be just be put down to existential angst. Whatever, this was beautiful. The work is called Seven last words. Haydn composed it for string quartet on commission from Cádiz in 1786 and it was initially performed, unexpectedly for Haydn, in a small, bare chapel. The seven phrases were initially spoken between the sonatas, but eventually got written into an oratorio version. This performance was a rare one by four voices individually singing parts with string quartet on period instruments. The performers were stunning: an instrumental quartet from Australian Haydn Ensemble with a vocal quartet from the Song Company. First class. The movements are Introduction, seven sonatas and an ending Terremoto (earthquake). The words (=phrases) are: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do; Today you will be with me in Paradise; Woman, behold your son; My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?; I thirst; It is finished; Into your hands, Father, I commend my spirit. The sonatas move through various major and minor keys in various tempos, from Largo and grave to maestoso, adagio and presto con tutta la forza (Terremoto). Just stunning and immensely beautiful in a way that bridges the baroque. The whole lasted about 90 minutes. Projected text located the listener. The text was sung in German. I thrilled at Anna's carrying soprano; enjoyed the high tenor voice and lusty bass and harmonising alto. Skye took most melody lines on first violin, with viola and second violin accompanying and giving presence; Anthony's period cello spelt crochets or counterpoint. There's a perfection in this small ensemble of one voice per part. Apparently it hasn't been recorded in this format and someone suggested that they might. I hope they do. In a studio, with no coughs and the perfection it deserves. Stunning.

The Australian Haydn Ensemble and the Song Company performed Haydn's Seven last words (of Christ). The instrumentalists were Skye McIntosh (first violin), Catherine Shugg (second violin), James Eccles (viola) and Anthony Albrecht (cello). The singers were Anna Fraser (soprano), Hannah Fraser (alto), Richard Black (tenor) and Andrew O'Connor (bass).

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