A Beethoven a day: Want an olive in it?

A Beethoven a day: Want an olive in it?


norman lebrecht

January 06, 2020

Welcome to the third work in the Slipped Disc/Idagio Beethoven Edition


3 Christ on the Mount of Olives, opus 85

If there is a slightly unfinished feel to this little-heard oratorio, it could be because Beethoven knocked it off in just two weeks to fit into an April 1803 concert at the Theater an der Wien in which he also performed the first two symphonies and the third piano concerto. The oratorio was not well received and took ten years to find a publisher.

It contains nonetheless valuable pre-echoes of the ninth symphony, an orchestral introduction of arresting beauty and a tenor part (for Jesus) that, while sometimes stentorian, grips the ear like a news bulletin in wartime. The next biggest part is a Seraph for soprano.
Jan Peerce and Maria Stader are unassailable on Hermann Scherchen’s 1955 Vienna recording

Placido Domingo with Kent Nagano is a matter of taste.

Nikolaus Harnoncourt delivers a truly devotional performance with an authentic asperity; Herbert Lippert and Laura Aikin are the soloists.

There are also decent performances from Bernhard Klee with the Berlin Philharmonic and Helmut Rilling in Stuttgart.

The most rounded performance, for me, is conducted by the Finnish eccentric Leif Segerstam, composer of 335 symphonies and some awkward public utterances, but a magnificent interpreter of large and unwieldy extravagances such as this. The Turku Philharmonic play with considerable delicacy and the soloists – Myllys and Haapamäki – are deftly restrained. Best I’ve ever heard.



  • Music lover says:

    What a sham.

    One presumes that this is being generated by Idagio. Correct?

    Norman: confess. Are you being paid to post these reviews? They’re too well written and researched to be penned by you.

    There are ways of confirming this, be assured.

    • Andreas B. says:

      Well researched?

      The Klee recording is not with the Berlin Phil but the Vienna Symphony.

      The Scherchen recording is not from 1955 but September 1962.

    • Hans van der Zanden says:

      So What?

      It is great to have these reviews every day!!!

    • Cubs Fan says:

      Have you read any of the many books by NL? You may not always agree with his comments, but the man can write! I’m currently re-reading Discord. Hugely entertaining.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Every now and then, a person on the mental health spectrum sneaks past our moderators with an absurd shoutout. Idagio and Slipped Disc have been transparent about their partnership in the Beethoven project.
      The commenter is advised to seek help.

      • V.Lind says:

        You may take exception to Music Lover’s remark, but to attribute it to mental health issues is a bit unpleasant. Aside from the implication that nobody could criticise you without being mentally ill, it does injustice to those who have real mental illnesses and deserve appropriate respect, sympathy and treatment for them.

        Music Lover’s comment was also unpleasant, but should be argued on its merits, which you did in your second sentence, not by the slurs in the rest of the reply.


  • fflambeau says:

    Leif Segerstam is underrated. He is magnificent with Sibelius.

  • Bloom says:

    Harnoncourt s version seems to have the urgency, the earnestness and the intensity expected usually from a work by Beethoven.

  • Tony Sanderson says:

    Simon Rattle has just conducted the LSO in this work. Maybe the LSO Live label will release a recording.

    • Tichy says:

      SR will soon conduct the work in Berlin, too. So there will at least be a recording in the Digital Concert Hall.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Rattle is touring it through Europe with the LSO, and will be back to do it again at the Barbican next month.

  • F P Walter says:

    For me, the most eloquent & skillfully sung Jesus comes from UK tenor Richard Lewis, heading up a 1966 CBS disc with (gasp) Ormandy and the Philadephians. There’s simply no substitute for world-class singing and gorgeous playing.

  • Hilary says:

    Pleased to be alerted to a piece by Beethoven which I have never heard.
    I will recommend another piece which I think deserves more of an airing and which I never get tired of listening to , or playing ( as a piano duet). It’s neglect is probably on account of the very prosaic title:
    Overture: Zur Namensfeier op.115
    Of the performances I’ve listened to Scherchen and Zinman perhaps made the best impression. After the portentous opening, the 6/8 main body of the piece is an unstoppable flow of energy and invention.