CLASSICAL: Christ on the Mount of Olives St Martin-in-the-Fields, London

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The Independent Culture
Somebody once asked Wagner if his Parsifal was really Jesus in disguise. Wagner was indignant: "Imagine making Christ a tenor!" I wonder if he'd ever heard Beethoven's 1803 oratorio, Christus am Olberge (Christ on the Mount of Olives).

Beethoven's Christ is, exceptionally, a very heroic tenor. In retrospect, Beethoven himself worried that he might have made his Jesus "too operatic", and it's true that, if one didn't know the text, one might imagine that this was another of the composer's earthly, striving political heroes rather than God incarnate. With Christ comes a decidedly operatic coloratura Seraph, and a Peter who blusters effectively, if briefly, but lacks any of the pathos of the Gospel narrative.

But Thursday's concert performance of this rarely heard work, with young vocal soloists and a reduced orchestra (the London Soloists Chamber Orchestra) in the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, showed that the music of Christ on the Mount of Olives is by no means negligible. The orchestral introduction is atmospheric and compelling; the choral writing may be uneven but it has its fine moments; and some of Jesus' music is surprisingly stirring - all credit to the tenor Robert Carlin for his ardent and secure singing in this challenging role.

To be frank, the first half of the evening (excerpts from Mozart's The Magic Flute) had not been very promising. The solo singing varied in quality; there was some initial disagreement within the orchestra as to the key- signature for Pamina's aria "Ach ich fuhl's"; and the loose change in conductor David Josefowitz's jacket pocket provided an intermittent percussion ostinato as it rattled against the leg of his metal chair.

Fortunately, though, everyone rose to the occasion after the interval for Christ on the Mount of Olives. Robert Carlin's Christ has already been mentioned, and Nicola-Jane Kemp (a creditable Queen of the Night in the first half) was a scintillating soprano Seraph. Chorus and orchestra sang and played as though they meant it, and Josefowitz judged the pace very well, so that the final "Allelujah" chorus made a satisfyingly emphatic conclusion.

Christ on the Mount of Olives may not be one of Beethoven's most sublime creations, but it is difficult to see why it has been so thoroughly ignored over the years. It deserves at least an occasional revival, and not simply as a musicological curiosity. If there's a spare 35 minutes in the next Proms season, a well-cast performance would more than plug the gap.

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