Unfinished as Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 is, it was relegated to the rank of mere hors-d’oeuvre in the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra’s recent concert, conducted by Asher Fisch, and the audience was released to a not-yet-well-deserved intermission after only 20-minutes.

Conductor Fisch presented an admirable rendition, displaying masterful command of the orchestral tutti and the many, delicately profiled instrumental soli. By not rushing the fast movement’s Allegro and not dragging the slow movement’s Andante he achieved a reasonable balance of tempi.

In the program’s main work, Rossini’s Stabat Mater, however, the conductor seemed to be preoccupied with the orchestra more than with his vocal forces. The Gary Bertini Choir sounded accurate and precise, but mechanic and indifferent, without flexibility of tempi when appropriate and with no nuances of dynamics when desirable.

The concluding Amen’s enthusiasm became mere shouting. Effective enough, though, for eliciting the conventional rhythmic applause when it was all over. As for the solo singers, these were too often overshadowed by the orchestral din.

Among the soloists, Cosmin Ifrim was outstanding. His radiant, forcefully expressive heldentenor was up to the high expectations of this role.

This is more than can be said about the other singers. Rinat Shaham’s warm mezzo-soprano was appealing when the orchestra had a rest, but was no match for the orchestra’s mostly domineering, unrestrained volume. Serena Farnocchia displayed a bright, clear soprano – too strained and shrill, however, on the higher notes. The dark-timbred bass-baritone of Simon Orfila sounded friendly, but tended to vanish when descending to his role’s lower depths.

The gentle art of casting did not quite do justice to this enchanting masterpiece.

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