Notes and Editorial Reviews
Christus am Ölberge
Helmuth Rilling, cond; Maria Venuti (
); Keith Lewis (
); Michel Brodard (
); Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart; Bach-Collegium Stuttgart
HÄNSSLER 98.030 (53:52
Text and Translation)
Now in his 80s, despite having resigned his directorships with
various institutions, Helmuth Rilling continues to amaze with vital, impassioned performances of both his beloved Bach and other choral music up through the early Romantic period (and occasional 20th-century works thrown in for flavor). This particular disc, however, is a reissue of his February 1994 recording of Beethoven’s
Christ on the Mount of Olives,
made when he was a mere stripling of 61. Like all his performances, it is crisply yet passionately played and sung. Throughout his career he has used reduced orchestras and choruses but never, to my knowledge, ever insisted on continual “straight tone” in his singers of players because, like anyone who has done thorough research into the era, he knows it is not supported by the reality of the time. And, in common with virtually all of his recordings using singers, his taste in soloists is impeccable.
The work itself is not considered top-drawer Beethoven, but it’s certainly better than its reputation. The real weakness lies in the poorly written text; Beethoven acknowledged as much, but felt that he surpassed the poor words with some very fine music. This, however, did not stop his publisher (Breitkopf & Hartel) from complaining, nor the press reviews, neither of which swayed Beethoven from his conviction that he had written a good work. In this performance the validity of the composer’s own judgment comes through. It is not perfect, and stylistically harks back to Haydn in certain sections, but it is surely a finer piece than its detractors will admit.
The two most famous pieces in this work are Jesus’ “My soul within me shudders” (recorded in 1930 by John McCormack under the title
My heart is sore within me
) and the Seraph’s beautiful aria “Praise the Redeemer’s goodness.” Both are sung splendidly here by tenor Lewis and soprano Venuti but, more importantly, I was impressed by the way Rilling pulls the whole oratorio together, from Overture to Finale, like a continuous, forward-moving juggernaut. Indeed, I liked this recording far better than Kent Nagano’s over-hyped version on Harmonia Mundi featuring a labored, leathery-sounding Plácido Domingo as Jesus, or the once-prized Volker Wangenheim recording on EMI with a transcendent Cristina Deutekom as the Seraph but an out-of-focus Nicolai Gedda as Jesus.
One may certainly criticize this piece, like the Verdi Requiem, for being somewhat more theatrical than is good for a supposedly sacred work, but I’ll take it as long as what I hear makes musical sense and projects the proper mood. Baritone Brodard, in the small role of Peter, is also quite fine. The sound quality is crystal-clear yet with a nice amount of space around soloists, chorus and orchestra, and a complete text in both German and English is included. If you enjoy this piece, I recommend this recording as an outstanding performance of it.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
Works on This Recording
Christus am Ölberge, Op. 85 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Keith Lewis (Tenor),
Michel Brodard (Bass),
Maria Venuti (Soprano)
Stuttgart Bach Collegium,
Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart
Written: 1803-1804; Vienna, Austria
Date of Recording: 1993
Venue: Liederhalle, Stuttgart, Germany
Length: 53 Minutes 52 Secs.
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