BEETHOVEN: Christ on the Mount of Olives–Oratorio, Op. 85 – Jan Peerce, tenor/ Maria Stader, soprano/Otto Wiener, bass/ Vienna Academy Chorus and Vienna State Opera Orchestra/ Hermann Scherchen – HDTT CD-R or DVD-R

by | Jan 2, 2008 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

BEETHOVEN: Christ on the Mount of Olives–Oratorio, Op. 85 – Jan Peerce, tenor/
Maria Stader, soprano/Otto Wiener, bass/ Vienna Academy Chorus and Vienna State Opera Orchestra/ Hermann Scherchen

HDTT HDCD CD-R 122 (also avail. as 96K DVD-R), 64:16 ****:

Recorded for Westminster Records in September 1962 on 4-track tape, this collaboration proves a fine realization of Beethoven’s ardent setting of Jesus’ wish to act as mediator for Man, dying a human death so that “His blood atones your guilt.” Composed in Beethoven’s eclectic, late style, the music alludes to Fidelio, the Mass in C Major, the counterpoint in Wellington’s Victory, and the Italianate side of Handel. Set in a number-aria sequence, the drama would prove static if not for the emotional energy imparted in Beethoven’s arioso writing. For American tenor Jan Peerce, the role of Jesus supplies a natural outlet for his lyrical, even cantorial qualities, as he declaims his personal agony, “the stream of anguish,/If Thou but Adam’s children spare.” Maria Stader, long a favorite of the Vienna State Opera and conductor Ferenc Fricsay, storms in with her first Seraph’s aria, “Now tremble, earth,” as she announces the martyr’s death awaiting The Holy One’s own son. At “Praise the Redeemer’s goodness,” Stader’s voice assumes a bright, almost metallic edge reminiscent of Birgit Nilsson. The high tessitura borrows a figure or two from The Queen of the Night as she admonishes those who dishonor the sacred blood, since “damnation is their lot.” Otto Wiener, noted for his Beethoven Ninth bass parts for several conductors (not the least of whom was Horenstein) intones the fiery disciple Peter’s desire for vengeance, his “righteous wrath and zeal,” on those who would offend his Lord. The knotty choruses find a veteran hand under Hermann Scherchen (1891-1966), who often relished large canvases and intricate harmony for its own sake.

Recorded in bright colors, the performance offers many delights to the audiophile as well as to the connoisseur of classic Beethoven. The lovely duet between Jesus and the Seraph, with a glowing cello obbligato, urges itself upon our consciousness, if not our collective conscience. The trio among Seraph, Jesus, and Peter drips with emblems from The Magic Flute. Rife with Masonic sentiments, the dialogues between Jesus and Peter, especially as the Roman soldiers seize Jesus, become emotionally febrile, juxtaposed with a tenderness that looks back to Bach and Schutz. The militant marches of the soldiers carry an unearthly mist; again, we think of the Prison Scene in Fidelio. Great trumpet work as “a storm wind driven” arrives to claim Jesus for wrongful judgment and divine grace. The halo of sound surrounding Jesus’ wish for swords to remain in their sheaths is Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, but the colossal energy of the lower strings followed by Peter’s furious aria is Mozart’s Osmin transfigured into an evangelical force. The muscular fugato that opens the Final Chorus, “World are singing thanks and honor,” conveys the sinewy lines we hear in the Emperor Concerto. The long magnificat that concludes the piece made for me the perfect New Year’s wish for the fate of this deeply-conflicted Human Race.

— Gary Lemco

 

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