Ludwig van Beethoven’s oratorio was premiered at a marathon concert in 1803. And I mean marathon. The all-Beethoven program (conducted by the composer) included his first and second symphonies, plus his third piano concerto. Some of the shorter pieces scheduled were dropped due to time constraints (!).
“Christ on the Mount of Olives” originally received mixed reviews (possibly due to battle fatigue). Beethoven revised the work in 1811, and it achieved a modest degree of success.
The oratorio is somewhat operatic in nature and construction. Recitatives, arias, and choruses propel the action forward and that action is Jesus moving from rebellion to acceptance of his fate.
Leif Segerstam leans into the drama of the work, which shares some attributes with “Fidelio.” The Chorus Cathedralis Aboensis delivers some rousing performance, especially with the finale. The Turku Philharmonic Orchestra, a frequent collaborator with Segerstam is in top form.
Soprano Hanna-Leena Haapamäki (the Seraph) sings with a rounded, honeyed tone of exceptional beauty. Niklas Spangberg also performs well as Peter, bringing an earthy honesty to the part.
This release launches a series of Beethoven choral works with Maestro Segerstam. It’s a solid beginning.
Ludwig van Beethoven: Christus am Ölberge, Op. 85
Eligischer Gesang, Op. 118
Hanna-Leena Haapamäki, soprano; Jussi Myllys, tenor; Niklas Spangberg, bass
Chorus Cathedralis Aboensis
Turku Philharmmonic Orchestra; Leif Segerstam, conductor