March 31st was the 280th anniversary of the birth of Joseph Haydn and on that date the Oakville Ensemble offered us Haydn’s ‘Seven Last Words’. This is a unique piece written by the profoundly religious Haydn to provide instrumental music for a Good Friday service, to be performed between meditations on Christ’s seven last utterances on the cross. This presentation included poetry readings between recent American transcriptions of each of Haydn’s nine musical interludes.
The work begins with a dark, evocative, familiar Introduction in D minor; and moves onto the pleading largo of ‘Father, forgive them’where it is possible to hear those words in the music. Then we have ‘Today you will be with me in paradise’ which begins in a sad minor key and moves into hopefulness; followed by the responsive ‘Woman, behold thy son’.
The centre of this marvellous work is the powerful, agonising ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ again written in that minor key. This is followed by “I thirst’ which has all the strings playing delicate pizzicato against a long melodic line from the first violin. We then move into the masterful Lento ‘It is finished’, the sixth of Christ’s utterances.
His final statement, ‘Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit’ is preceded by a Largo that is mournful but not hopeless. The conclusion – ‘The earth shook’ – in C minor was dramatic, full bodied and not to be ignored. The music by Haydn was glorious and expressive and played beautifully by the strings of the Ensemble – Linda Choi & Tanya Charles, violins; Peter Ing, viola; Brandon Wilkie, cello and Natalie Kemerer, bass. The poetry read between each piece was less even, some seemed a bit facile for the context, but two were wonderful –‘ The Soldier’, beautifully read by John Corvese and ‘A Discarded Story’ written and read by Zohra Zoberi.
The next concerts of the Oakville Ensemble are on Saturday May 12th and Sunday May 13th, and are called ‘Triumph of the Spirit’ featuring Canadian music. See www.oakville-ensemble.ca for details.