A Slow Day On The Mount Of Olives

Review by: Robert Levine


Artistic Quality: 7

Sound Quality: 8

Beethoven’s 1803 oratorio, Christus am Ölberge, never has been an audience favorite. It consists of a slow delivery of the story of Christ’s arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, with commentary by the Man himself sounding like a long-suffering co-prisoner of Florestan’s; a sweet Seraph who explains and praises, at one point with excellent coloratura (on the words “His blood wipes out your guilt”); Peter, who is enraged by the whole scene; and a chorus, some believers or rubberneckers, and some soldiers out to do their worst.

Leif Segerstam leads as if the entire historically-informed movement had never happened. This is not a bad thing in itself—many of us like our Beethoven monumental, and he kindly composed a final chorus of praise that is grand indeed. But the onlookers commenting and the soldiers being vicious have little character; and a trio, though musically delightful, featuring Jesus, Peter, and the Seraph, sounds oddly like The Magic Flute and then Fidelio. This is a work that lacks Beethoven’s profile, for the most part, and though it comes from the same period as the Eroica, lacks that work’s imagination.

Segerstam takes almost 10 minutes longer with the work than the competition (Nagano, Rilling) and it feels it. It isn’t turgid, but it also isn’t dramatic. Nagano has Placido Domingo as Christ, and he’s grand, his exclamations big boned, and his words well-learned; however, he just about gets through the coloratura in his last aria, while Jussi Myllys, on this new release flies through musically and elegantly and elsewhere is also up to snuff. Soprano and bass are fine.

The seven-minute Elegischer Gesang (Elegiac Song) is a bonus. Composed in 1814, it is indeed elegaic—soft, gentle, and beautifully performed. Throughout, the Chorus Cathedralis Aboensis and Turku Philharmonic Orchestra sing and play handsomely, and texts and translations are included. I wish I could recommend this—recordings of it are few and far between—but it never gets off the ground. I’d go with Rilling if you must own a recording of it, but it remains a work for Beethoven completists.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Rilling (Hänssler)

  • Hanna-Leena Haapamäki (soprano); Jussi Myllys (tenor); Niklas Spångberg (bass)
  • Chorus Cathedralis Aboensis, Turku Philharmonic Orchestra, Leif Segerstam

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