Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 and Bernard Foccroulle’s On the Verge of the Night are about as liturgical as, say, Bizet’s Carmen. Why they were classified as such, in a concert series entitled “Liturgical” by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, remains a mystery.

In the song cycle On the Verge of the Night, Foccroulle (b. 1953) sets poems by Rainer Maria Rilke to music. Each song highlights diverse solo instruments of the orchestra, cautiously underlining the text’s structure, and sensitively capturing each poem’s mood and atmosphere without gliding into melodious banalities. This inventive interplay of instrumental sonorities, orchestral tutti and the vocal and the musical interpretation of the text is what makes the work attractive and appealing. Anastasia Klevan’s bright soprano blended in harmoniously with the orchestra.

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Performing Beethoven’s Ninth is quite an ambitious undertaking by the JSO, conducted by Frederic Chaslin. In the opening Allegro, the conductor blissfully ignored the caption “ma non troppo, un poco maestoso” (“but not too fast, a little majestic”), making the movement sound hurried, matter-of-fact, and eliminating its mysterious quality.

The Scherzo’s haste lacked short breathing rests between phrases that therefore flowed into each other, diluting the movement’s tremendous energies.

The work’s great choral climax was achieved accurately and solemnly, though without much enthusiasm.

The female soli, soprano Edit Zamir and mezzo-soprano Ayala Zimbler, evoked compassion with the efforts of their weak and lusterless voices.

Vladimir Braun’s friendly bass-baritone was appropriately authoritative in the opening recitative, but tended to vanish on the concluding low notes.

It was a well-meant, competently rehearsed performance – but Beethoven’s Ninth deserves better.

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