While pandemic restrictions are gradually lifting – venues in Sydney are back to full capacity from Monday – this Easter won’t feature the large-scale Messiahs that so often fill concert halls and choir stalls at this time of year. Instead, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra has chosen a more intimate Easter program: Haydn’s Seven Last Words of our Redeemer from the CrossHob.XX/1, in a performance by a stripped back SSO led by Concertmaster Andrew Haveron.
Haydn wrote this music in 1786 for a Good Friday service at a cathedral in Cádiz in Spain. As Haydn himself described it, the music was to fill the intervals between the Bishop’s recitation of each of the seven ‘words’ – short passages describing scenes of Christ on the cross – which the Bishop would expound on before leaving the pulpit to prostrate himself on the altar. “It was no easy task to compose seven Adagios lasting 10 minutes each and to succeed one another without fatiguing the listeners,” Haydn wrote.
From the stern opening gestures of the introduction (the strings rich and authoritative under Haveron’s command), Haydn deftly charts a range of moods across the seven...