Beethoven: Christus am Ölberge

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Opus 111
WORKS: Christus am Ölberge
PERFORMER: Simone Kermes (soprano), Steve Davislim (tenor), Eike Wilm Schulte (bass); Chorus Musicus, Das Neue Orchester/Christoph Spering
CATALOGUE NO: OPS 30-281
Though its comparatively late opus number (85) might lead one to suppose otherwise, Christ on the Mount of Olives is an early piece, first performed in a concert in April 1803 that also contained the premieres of the Second Symphony and the Third Piano Concerto. Apparently not entirely satisfied with it, Beethoven revised it the following year and published it in 1811. Though it lacks the fiery commitment of the best of his ‘first-period’ pieces, it is a striking, often extraordinary work that deserves to be better known – at roughly 50 minutes, it’s ideal for a choral second half.

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It’s rather short measure for a CD, however, and one of Beethoven’s other choral pieces might have been added here, but Christoph Spering’s conducting is perceptive and consistently dynamic, and the colours he draws from his period-instrument players rich and complex. In the main tenor role of Jesus, Steve Davislim is notable for his sensitive rendering of the text and his care for tonal quality, though a more dramatic approach would not have gone amiss. Baritone Eike Wilm Schulte is aptly earthy and volatile as Peter, while soprano Simone Kermes offers remarkable virtuosity in the Italianate vocalising accorded the Seraph (rising to an alternative top E with confidence). The choral singing is done with a light touch, the sound slightly lacking in vibrancy. There’s much to commend this version, however, though anyone seeking a big, old-fashioned approach could try Serge Baudo’s 1987 version with Lyon forces. George Hall