Beethoven's Christus am Ölberge, Op. 85 (Christ on the Mount of Olives), was composed in 1802 and published in revised form eight years later. Like the opera Fidelio, it exists in multiple versions and is imperfect (it is one of Beethoven's least-performed major works) but interesting. It's an oratorio, and unlike Beethoven's few other religious works it contains few references to the conventions of sacred music past aside from a large final fugue. Instead the libretto recounts, in rather awkward fashion, the emotions of Jesus prior to his crucifixion, and Beethoven offers the same kind of broad, idealizing music heard in Fidelio. This version was recorded in 1994 and has been reissued as one of the Hänssler Classic label's few mid-price release. It has held up well. Although the performers, Germany's Bach-Collegium Stuttgart and Gächinger Kantorei with conductor Helmuth Rilling, were known for historically oriented recordings, this is not really an early music version of Beethoven. The orchestra of just over 40 players and the fine small regional German choir keep everything in balance, and Rilling's reading has an appealing straightforwardness. The soloists, especially tenor Keith Lewis, are top-notch, and the Liederhalle Stuttgart provides an ideal acoustic environment that perhaps resembles that of the premiere venue, the Theater an der Wien. Still a strong choice among the comparatively few recordings of Beethoven's only oratorio.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Christus am Ölberge|