Haydn: Seven last words of Christ on the Cross / Klenke String Quartet
1 consumer review
Seven Last Words
Aug 29, 2008 (Updated Aug 29, 2008)
Review by jlaurson
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:A flexible, spirited performances of a fine work, if hardly without competition.
Cons:None, beyond the inevitable degree of emotional monotony of seven Adagios in a row.
The Bottom Line: A perfectly competitive interpretation and recording of the "Seven Words"
Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672), Charles Gounod (1818-1893), César Franck (1822-1890), Théodore Dubois (1837-1924), Charles Tornemiere (1870-1939), Ruth Zechlin (1926-2007), Sofia Gubaidulina (*1931), and James MacMillan (*1959) all composed works based on the Seven Last Words of Christ. But the most famous version of the Seven Last Words is clearly Joseph Haydns.
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Or perhaps versions would be more appropriate, since Haydn wrote Les sept dernières paroles de notre Rédempteur sur la Croix for orchestra first (1786/97), then later appended it with a choral part (after 1791). Presumably though not certainly from Haydns pen comes the transcription for String Quartet, which has entered the Haydn String Quartet canon without controversy. And there is a version for keyboard which isnt Haydns own, but was proof-read and approved by him.
The seven last words, taken from the Gospels of Mark, Luke, and John and put into presumed chronological order, form a sort of short-hand interpretation of the crucifixion for Catholics. They are:
* Pater, dimitte illis; quia nesciunt, quid faciunt Father forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34)
* Hodie mecum eris in paradise Verily, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43)
* Mulier, ecce filius tuus Woman, behold your son. (Behold your mother) (John 19:26-27)
* Deus meus, Deus meus, utquid dereliquisti me? Eli Eli lama sabachthani [My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?] (Mark 15:34 and Matthew 27:46)
* Sitio I thirst (John 19:28)
* Consumatum est! It has been done! [It has been completed] (John 19:30)
* In manus tuas, Domine, commendo Spiritum meum Into Thy hands I command my spirit (Luke 23:46)
Haydns challenge was to compose seven meditative instrumental movements for the bishop of Cádiz, each to follow one of his contemplations on one of these words on Good Friday. Seven Adagios of just under 10 minutes each in a row eight, if you count the Maestoso ed Adagio introduction could make for some very turgid listening. But Haydn was well aware of that, for one, and secondly he was a master of the slow movement. The result was one of Haydns own proudest achievements and the enduring popularity especially of the naked string quartet version proves him right. He created a work that defies convention and strikes as modern yet old-fashioned at once. Or neither and instead as timeless.
No wonder a fair number of string quartets flock to this composition. The Griller, Talich, Fitzwilliam, Lindsay, and Guarneri string quartets have recorded it over their careers. In 2001 the Emerson String Quartet threw its hat in the ring with a slightly enhanced version (the only Haydn recording of them that I like perhaps because humor isnt terribly important in the Seven Words). The Ysaÿe String Quartet put out a wonderful, slightly romantic, version interpolated with spoken mediations (in French), and my favorite quartet in Haydn, the Quatuor Mosaïque, has recorded them, too. Most recently, the Klenke Quartet(t) added their version, a live recording, for Berlin Classics.
I first noted the all-female Klenke Quartet when I came across their terrific Mozart cycle of the Haydn-Quartets on Profil; next to the Quatour Mosaiques cycle now my favorite recordings thereof. It shouldnt surprise that their latest offering convinces wholly as well, even as it will not be everyones preferred version. Direct comparison to a favorite version of mine the Rosamunde Quartets on ECM is telling.
Where the Klenkes tone is flexible, offering a good amount of vibrato, the Rosamunde Quartet is more matter-of-fact, with a straight forward and unsentimental reading. The latters is a true lament, the Klenkes subversively romantic. With a rounder, more luxurious sound and a touch more reverb, the live Klenke recording offers a gentler view and a bit more humanity.
Annegret Klenkes first violin sounds more nasal than Andreas Reiners, and she floats above her colleagues; whereas the Rosamunde remains a tight cohesive whole, even where the melodic material is unevenly distributed. And perhaps a matter of live recording vs. studio recording, perhaps a matter of stylethe Rosamunde Quartets intonation is dead-on whereas the Klenke Quartet bends the sound here and there, sometimes dropping slightly flat in a flexible, bungee-like way. (Interestingly, many of the qualities that made their Mozart so irresistible are better represented by the Rosamunde Quartet in this work.)
The Klenke Quartet might not indulge per se, but its slow tempos remind a little of the Emerson without achieving their rhythmic rigor but offering a broader flow. This is particularly notable with Sitio, the fifth sonata, where the Klenke Quartet takes 11:31 to the Rosamundes 7:57. The concluding movement depicting the earthquake Il terremoto starts out nice and dark but then fails to be, well, earth-shattering. Alas, that is a problem shared with most, if not all, versions for string quartet. Its recommended for their flexible tone, and to those who like breath in already broad movements. Those who prefer something that lets the music speak more plainly less an interpretation rather than musical excavation will find more satisfaction from the way of playing the Rosamunde Quartet epitomizes.
Great Music to Play While: Listening
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Recording information: August-Everding-Saal, Grünwald, Germany (01/17/2012-01/19/2012).
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