It has been a while since I attended a concert of the Midcoast Symphony Orchestra, and if Saturday night’s performance at the Franco-American Heritage Center is any indication, it has come a long way in a short time, doing an excellent job with one of the masterpieces of musical impressionism, Debussy’s “Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune,” and an even better one with the gold standard of orchestration, Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” (Op. 35). Under music director Rohan Smith it has developed considerable polish and grace under pressure.

In between, the Midcoast sandwiched a fine performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat (Op. 19) with pianist George Lopez. If anything, the concerto might have been a relaxation, since it makes no severe demands of the orchestra, and Lopez is much more orchestra-friendly than many virtuosi. He also provided a cadenza at the end of the first movement, which was almost as long as the movement itself, including what seemed like spur-of-the-moment improvisations.

The third movement, which always reminds me of a hopping bunny, was charming and delightful.

Unfortunately, Lopez succumbed to the dreadful compulsion to play an encore after a concerto, in this case a florid rendering of Beethoven’s “Fur Elise.”

The “Afternoon of a Faun,” which began the program — a special benefit concert performance for the Franco-American Heritage Center — requires many difficult solo performances, especially in the woodwinds, and the orchestra principals responded to the challenge.

More important, the entire ensemble conveyed the atmosphere and vibrant color that the composition demands. One could almost see the satyr pursuing the nymphs.

The tour-de-force of the program was “Scheherazade,” which makes extraordinary demands on even the most professional orchestras.

One could call it program music, perhaps, since it describes stories from the “Thousand and One Nights,” but it conjures up images, rather than a plot. And what images they are: some of the most descriptive seafaring music ever written, ending in a violent wreck on a cliff, tender amorous scenes of a young prince and princess, oriental marches, and a fete in Baghdad, to name a few.

Every section of the orchestra was called upon to stretch the limits, especially the brass, and they did. Concertmaster Carol Preston played the sensuous violin solos that portray the storyteller Scheherazade with a beautifully clear and precise tone in the upper registers. A few mishaps in double stops did nothing to detract from the intimate atmosphere.

If I had any quarrel with the entire performance it would be with the sustained high volume of the final shipwreck scene. It is certainly fortissimo most of the way, but it needs a few respites. Now that the Midcoast has it in the repertoire, I would like to hear it again.

Christopher Hyde’s Classical Beat column appears in the Maine Sunday Telegram. He can be reached at:

[email protected]