Haydn’s seven sober and imposingly spiritual ‘sonatas’, framed by a solemn introduction and dramatic epilogue, pose considerable interpretative problems, not least one of sustaining interest throughout. Haydn himself recognised these difficulties but persevered to fulfil the specific requirements of his commission for a musical commentary on the spoken drama of Christ’s last hours.
The members of the Leipzig Quartet demonstrate a thorough grasp of Haydn’s rich and inventive scores, offering all the requisite devotional gravity. Leader Stefan Arzberger appears centre-stage as if a soloist singing the brief biblical text that heads and dictates the mood of each ‘sonata’. He realises Haydn’s melodies with sensitivity and imagination, notably in the sighing figures of the introduction, the contrasting moods of no.2 and the serene beauty of no.7. He is admirably supported by his colleagues, whose sound is cultured and as closely integrated as Haydn’s music. The instrumental interplay at the opening of no.5, for example, is skilfully negotiated, as are also the characteristic duet passages of no.3 and the meaningful unisons of no.6.
The recording has vivid presence and a natural balance, but too much added reverberation for my taste. Those difficult to please may also consider these accounts slightly understated and desire a wider range of expression. Few ensembles, including the Leipzig, match the Lindsays (ASV) in conveying the full elemental force of the final earthquake. Nevertheless, these artists contribute substantially to the fulfilment of Haydn’s expressed aim to make ‘the greatest impression possible on the soul of even the most inexperienced listener’.