Thanks to the Haifa Symphony Orchestra’s concert program one could gain awareness of what one does not always realize: Mendelssohn and Berlioz were contemporaries, even though Mendelssohn, in his Violin Concerto, sounds conservative, subtle and listener-friendly, and Berlioz daring, dramatic and complexity-ridden, in his Symphonie Fantastique. And the 20th century’s Sibelius seemed to be the most Romantic of them all in his Finlandia.

Algerian-born Gilles Apap, the Concerto’s soloist, started with an encore, to be on the safe side, even before the Concerto – a Bach Sonata movement. This precaution proved unnecessary, however, because the enthusiastic audience later extracted three more Encores from him after the Concerto as well. He displayed outstanding purity of intonation, incisive articulation, appealing lyrical songfulness in the slow movement, and Midsummer Night’s Dream-like sparkle in the final one. But what  aroused the audience’s excitement in particular was the folk-music-fiddling of his final encores, dashed off with dazzling virtuosity, high spirits and mischievous humor.

Not having heard this far northern orchestra for quite some time, one was in for a veritable surprise in the well-rehearsed, firmly consolidated rendition, rich and full sound, and remarkable transparence under Noam Sheriff’s baton. As demanding a work as Berlioz’s Symphonie is, the Ball movement sounded dance-like flexible, the March to the Scaffold plastically described Dr. Guillotine’s ingenious, life-shortening invention, and the Witches’ Sabbath was just as frightening as one could possibly wish.

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