Notes and Editorial Reviews
Christus am Ölberge (Christ on the Mount of Olives) is Beethoven's only oratorio, and while the 1803 work hardly measures up to the peaks of the Beethoven canon, it's well worth hearing, especially in so sympathetic a performance. Nowhere near as sweepingly dramatic as the great Bach Passions, it's sharply focused on Jesus' mental turmoil. The action is confined to the Mount of Olives, and besides Jesus, the other soloists are the Seraph as God's messenger, and Peter, whose small role is confined to anger at the Roman soldiers. The chorus takes on the parts of the soldiers, disciples, and angels, eschewing Bachian opportunities for meditative lessons for the faithful.
The musical language is unmistakably Beethoven's, but
with visible fingerprints of Haydn, Mozart, and Handel, the latter most apparent in the final choral fugue that quotes Messiah's "Hallelujah!" chorus. Likewise, while the orchestral introduction recalls Haydn, the bassoon-led sonorities and ominous throbbing timpani mark it with Beethoven's originality. That introduction also exemplifies the quality of much of the work, as does the following extended recitative and aria for Jesus. The soprano aria "Preist des Erlösens Güte" is another high point, gracefully and often floridly written.
But the oratorio is front-loaded; the first part is more compelling musically, and while the second part has its moments, notably the final choral fugue, there are too many banal sections, such as the soldier's choruses and Peter's outburst, heir to the traditional vengeance aria. Perhaps the work's unevenness is due to Beethoven's greater attraction to the emotions and spiritual wrestlings in preference to the more conventional narrative of the rest of the work.
Kent Nagano and his forces are persuasive advocates, making the most of the oratorio's best moments and making the perfunctory ones palatable. But in most respects, this is Placido Domingo's show. The man never ceases to amaze. On the brink of qualifying for Social Security, he still sings with commitment and tonal strength, investing the text with expressiveness to portray a very human Jesus. Likewise, soprano Luba Orgonasova is about all we can ask for in the role of the Seraph--warmly angelic and agile in coping with the role's modest coloratura demands. The jewel box lists baritone Andreas Schmidt as a bass, but even a darker voice wouldn't make anything of the formulaic part. Fine sound allows details to emerge with clarity. But isn't 47 and a half minutes skimpy timing for a full-price disc? [3/17/2004]
– Dan Davis, ClassicsToday.com, reviewing original release of this recording, Harmonia Mundi 901802 Read less
Works on This Recording
Christus am Ölberge, Op. 85 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Luba Orgonasova (Soprano),
Placido Domingo (Tenor),
Andreas Schmidt (Baritone)
Berlin Radio Chorus,
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin
Written: 1803-1804; Vienna, Austria
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