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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Christus am Ölberge (Christ on the Mount of Olives), oratorio, Op. 85 (1802/03)
Luba Orgonasova (soprano); Plácido Domingo (tenor); Andreas Schmidt (Peter)
Rundfunkchor Berlin/Simon Halsey
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Kent Nagano
rec. September 2002, Jesus Christ Church, Dahlem, Berlin
Full German texts and translations in English and French
HARMONIA MUNDI HMG 501802 [47:35]

Originally released in 2003 Harmonia Mundi now reissues this recording. The oratorio is certainly not one Beethoven’s greatest inspirations but with a performance and sound quality as excellent as this it would be hard to imagine better advocacy.
Christ on the Mount of Olives was Beethoven’s only oratorio. It was completed in 1803 soon after writing his infamous ‘Heiligenstadt Testament’ and before writing the Eroica. Beethoven himself introduced Christ on the Mount of Olives in 1803 at the Theater an der Wien. Remarkably, at that same concert, Beethoven was also giving premieres to two other works the Symphony No. 2 in D major and the Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor. Franz Xaver Huber wrote the text which portrays the emotional turmoil of Jesus and his subsequent arrest by soldiers in the Garden of Gethsemane where he went after the Last Supper on the night before his Crucifixion.
In this substantial work, lasting around fifty minutes, Beethoven has written for three solo voices. Plácido Domingo’s secure tenor is heard to its golden best in the aria Meine Seele ist erschüttert (My Soul is deeply distressed) impressively portraying Jesus in the depths of despair imploring God to end his suffering. As the Angel soprano Luba Orgonasova’s vocal is brightly lit. She sings with confidence in the aria Preist des Erlösers Güte (Praise the Redeemer for his goodness) giving warning of the penalty for those who dishonour the Lord. A real highlight is the duet between Jesus and the Angel So ruhe denn mit ganzer Schwere, auf mir, mein Vater, dein Gericht (Then let your sentence fall on me, O Father, in its full severity). It’s splendidly communicated with especially impressive blending of the voices. In the part of Peter, Andreas Schmidt with his imposing rock-steady bass, contributes tellingly to the marvellously rendered trio In meinen Adern wühlen gerechter Zorn und Wut (The blood in my veins boils with righteous anger and fury). Chorus master Simon Halsey has coached the Rundfunkchor Berlin who impress greatly in all their choruses. They display remarkable unity with especially gratifying singing in the Chorus of Angels Welten singen Dank und Ehre (Let worlds sing thanks and glory). Under Kent Nagano the world-class Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin play throughout with commitment and sensitivity.
The Harmonia Mundi engineers have provided clear and well balanced sound from this greatly sought after recording venue. Splendidly presented this Harmonia Mundi Gold reissue contains an informative booklet complete with full German texts with translations in English and French.
This is an urgent and alert account of the oratorio Christ on the Mount of Olives compellingly performed and splendidly recorded.
Michael Cookson

Previous review: Ralph Moore