Beethoven: Christus am Ölbege

This is a cherishable performance, full of spirit.

Beethoven: Christus am Ölbege

Those folks at Alpha do it again: a superb recording of a piece that really deserves better recognition. This time, it is Beethoven under their gaze: an oratorio - Beethoven's only one - on Christ on the Mount of Olives (Christus am Ölberge), his Op. 85, first performed at the Theater an der Wien in April, 1803,

The Introduction is given a superb performance by the period instrument Orchestra des Champs-Elysées (who perform music on authentic instruments all the way up to Ravel). And how that makes a difference in this “Introduzione”:

The Mount of Olives was of course the setting for the crucifiction. Beethoven has a tenor sing Jesus: here the strong Sebastian Kohlepp, a name new to me. How he conveys the soul's unrest in “Meine Seele ist erschütten,” which also contains some truly Beethovenian turns of phrase. While Beethoven did express some doubts as to the quality of the text he was setting (by Franz Xaver Hüber, 1755-1814), there is no doubting his engagement with the subject matter:

Eleanor Lyons is the soprano soloist, the “Seraph,” her voice nicely light for the bright aria, “Priest des Erlösers Güte” (Praise the Redeemer's goodness), and with a lovely trill, too. This might not be absolutely top-drawer Beethoven, but it is involving, especially at the change in mood at “Er stirbt für such aus Liebe”; and listen to how Beethoven segues perfectly into the chorus, “O Heil euch” (Hail to you), and ho w much power the Collegium Vocale Gent is capable of:

One of the most beautiful sections of the piece is the duet between Jesus and the Seraph (Kohlepp and Lyons), “So ruhe dann mit ganzer Schwere” (Then let your sentence rest on me):

Beethoven rafts his recitatives carefully, sustaining the overall ambience of Biblical story-telling. The choruses contain some difficult writing, demanding lightness as well as force. We can hear that lightness in “Wir haben ihn gesehen”:

Nothing quite prepares one for the blaze of light and optimism that is the chorus of soldiers, “Hier ist er” (Here he is):

The role of Peter (Petrus) is taken by Thomas Bauer, who offers a beautifully full bass, notably dramatic, as you can hear in the Trio:

It wouldn't be an oratorio without some good old counterpoint, and Beethoven provides this in the chorus, “Auf!, auf!, ergreifet den Verräter”:

This is a wonderful, invigorating performance of this piece Kohlepp gives his all towards the end, resulting in a notably exciting close.

It is interesting coming back to the piece after a gap of some 40+ years: I first got to know Christus via an old Vox/Turnabout LP back in the late 1970s: Stuttgart Philharmonic under Josef Bloser, with Reinhold Bartel, Lieselotte Reimann and August Messthaler as soloists. Sadly, that does not appear to be on YouTube!

Some might say 47"26 is short measure for the Alpha disc, but this is a cherishable performance, full of spirit. The disc is available here at Amazon, and the Spotify is as usual, below.