Review: Attacca Quartet – Haydn: “The Seven Last Words of Christ”

Today is the 283rd anniversary of Franz Joseph Haydn’s birth.  One of his most magnificent works is the Seven Last Words of Christ.  It was commissioned for a Good Friday service in a Spanish Oratory in 1783 but was not published until 1787.  Originally conceived as an orchestral piece, the composer later adapted this work for string quartet.
Most recently, an absolutely fabulous recording of this work has been released by the incredibleAttacca Quartet.  This New York based quartet met at the Juilliard School and have not looked back since. They recently completed a cycle of all 68 of Haydn’s quartets in performance in New York. It is with much anticipation then that we awaited their release of this mammoth work by Haydn on the Azica label.
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It is with great joy that we report how fantastic this recording truly is.  Throughout the performance, one observe so many admirable qualities of this quartet.  One of the strongest features of the disc is the sense of dialogue that one hears between the members of the quartet. The sense of ensemble that the Attacca Quartet attains is of the highest level and at times we feel as if the players are one being playing just one instrument. The attention to detail by the musicians is evident in the sound quality and balance achieved.  Throughout the performance, we are invited into their world and the world of the story being presented – the passion of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
From the very first notes of the introduction, the quartet conveys a sense of drama and lures us into the story that they are about to weave.  The listener understands that something important is about to occur and that if they embark on this journey with the performer that they will be transformed.  In this movement, the tone is completely refined – a feature which characterizes the entire recording.
The second introduction (L’introduzzione – transcribed by the quartet’s cellist Andrew Yee)  is particularly striking.  The quartet never loses our interest by always presenting a wide variety of colours and sounds.  The rests hold us captivated – waiting for the next part of the Passion story to be told.  The second introduction demonstrates a trait that is clear throughout the recording: this quartet has a thorough comprehension of emotion or affect associated with each movement.  In addition, the second introduction (track 6 on this recording) demonstrates the absolute technical mastery of the Attacca Quartet – both as individual players and as an ensemble.
This is a recording that belongs in every music lover’s collection because of the conviction with which the Attacca Quartet plays. Moreover, they never stray from the classical style and their choices with regard to expression and tempo are well-informed.  The emotional range captured by the group ranges from sorrowful to peaceful and finally to absolutely earth-shattering in the final movement “Il terremoto.”
Finally, what makes this recording an absolute must have is that the quartet absolutely adores this music. They desire to truly serve the score and their performance reflects this commitment.  The emotional sensitivity and attention to phrasing in this rendition are superb. Please visit iTunes to purchase this wonderful performance: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/haydn-7-last-words-christ/id969268372.
Please find out more about the Attacca Quartet here: http://attaccaquartet.com/
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