One violinist, after the Oct. 25 concert of the Midcoast Symphony Orchestra at the Franco-American Heritage Center, said, “I felt like I was swimming in such a cascade of notes that I almost forgot to look at the score.”

Generating the cascade was the phenomenal French pianist, Lise de la Salle, playing the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3 (Op. 30).

Next to Samuel Barber’s piano concerto, the “Rach 3,” as it is affectionately known, is the most difficult piano concerto ever written, or at least the only one that remains firmly in the repertoire.

I don’t use the word “phenomenal” lightly. De la Salle took the concerto at a faster-than-ordinary tempo, without marring any of its spectacular climactic points, and her string-breaking power seemed incredible in a petite 26-year-old. Perhaps some nuances were lost, but that seemed unimportant in a work written to show off its composer’s pianistic genius.

After the tremendous final crescendo, the audience leaped to its feet in a long standing ovation for de la Salle, the orchestra and conductor Rohan Smith.

There was some concern before the performance about whether a community orchestra such as the Midcoast could keep up with de la Salle’s whirlwind, but the ensemble more than held its own, fully participating in the excitement. There were a couple of passages where the piano reversed roles and almost drowned out the full orchestra. I don’t think anyone cared.

The performance was diametrically opposed to one in March, with pianist Charles Floyd playing the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2. Floyd’s approach was slow, introspective and so utterly unusual that it was deeply moving, even in a work as hackneyed as that one. Both approaches are equally valid in the right hands. The question is, where does Rohan Smith find such soloists? Those on violin and clarinet have been equally outstanding.

The Oct. 25 program began with the Brahms Symphony No. 2 in D Major (Op. 73), ample evidence, if any was needed, that the Midcoast has come of age, with questions of interpretation superseding those of technique. Every section of the orchestra performed admirably, but the second movement, adagio non troppo, was especially impressive – the essence of late summer.

Throughout, Brahms’ beloved French horns sang flawlessly, no mean feat for an amateur orchestra.

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

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