Review by: David Hurwitz
Artistic Quality: 9
Sound Quality: 9
Haydn’s Seven Last Words of the Savior on the Cross exists in four versions: the orchestral original, the oratorio arrangement, and transcriptions for string quartet and solo piano. The last of these was not by Haydn, but allegedly was authorized by him. Frankly only the first two make any sense, offering a scheme of contrasting textures, colors, and dynamics that justifies the sequence of eight slow movements (including the introduction), never mind the splendidly graphic concluding “earthquake.” Historically, the most popular version (on disc at least) has been the one for string quartet because it’s cheap to do and adds an automatic degree of seriousness, even profundity, to the work of a composer too often mistakenly treated as a lightweight.
The piano version, however, has its own attractions if you have a soloist willing to treat tempos flexibly, and exploit the dynamic range of a modern instrument tastefully and strategically. David Jalbert is certainly one such. He doesn’t pound the ivories with the sort of percussive intensity that Ronald Brautigam’s fortepiano (BIS) offers by default, nor does he attempt to match John McCabe’s quasi-Brucknerian solemnity. Rather, Jalbert lets his instrument sing, reminding us that each movement begins with a musical setting of the actual “words” in question. This permits an extra degree of tenderness to “Ecce Mulier Filius tuus,” and a truly moving serenity to “In manus tuus, Domini, commendo Spirito meum.”
As for the final “Earthquake,” Jalbert supplements the printed text both there (and a bit elsewhere) very sensitively, to provide fuller textures and a more graphic response to the music’s expressive intentions. Warmly engineered, this very attractive release deserves consideration both for its own sake, and if you’re interested in the various iterations of this singular Haydn masterpiece.
Reference Recording: None for this version