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Haydn: The Seven Last Words Of Christ On The Cross / Skalholt Quartet

Release Date: 02/12/2013 
Label:  Smekkleysa   Catalog #: 13   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Franz Joseph Haydn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Skálholt Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

HAYDN The Seven Last Words of Christ Skálholt Qrt SMEKKLEYSA SMC 13 (73:08)

A record label that has flourished for over 25 years in Iceland now has a distributor in the States. The name of the label is translated “Bad Taste” and that has become the official form of the title. (Picasso said something derogatory about good taste.) This disc is one of several recorded by a string quartet made up of three local players with the Dutch violinist Jaap Schröder, who will soon (but still before this Read more appears in print) celebrate his 87th birthday. The Netherlands String Quartet was just the first of several such ensembles that he formed, later adding conducting the baroque repertoire to his pursuits. This disc was recorded in 2003 and released in 2009, but it is timeless. I have heard most of the recordings that this magnificent work has had, and more than a few of them are so good that I find it hard to rank them. But this one belongs with a short list of the best string quartet versions of a work that exists in three other forms made or approved by the composer (the string orchestra version is the original and the quartet version is by far the most popular on records).

What accounts for the heart-melting loveliness of this performance? I think the octogenarian first violinist has entered into the mood of Good Friday with the insight that old age brings. I don’t find any previous recording that he participated in (there are more than 50 of the unadorned quartet arrangement), but it is unlikely that he was unfamiliar with such a staple of the repertoire. This is one of the longest performances on record; among those I have timed, only the Kuijken Quartet on Denon (78:54) and the Cherubini Quartet on EMI (77:02) are longer. I have searched unsuccessfully for a pocket score, so I can only assume that these three take all the repeats. The Aeolian Quartet at 57:50 omits all repeats, so the Zagreb Quartet at 42:35 must have some other excuse for its speed.

This performance is so engrossing because the music simply unfolds without an accent, a tempo, or a phrase out of place. It sounds like the ideal performance that resides in your head after decades of listening to a variety of renditions. I have a few favorites among the prior versions, but this must be added to the short list. The digipack is elegant.

FANFARE: J. F. Weber
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Works on This Recording

Seven last words of Christ on the Cross, Op. 51/H 3 no 50-56 by Franz Joseph Haydn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Skálholt Quartet
Period: Classical 
Written: 1787; Eszterhazá, Hungary 

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