Robert Moody looked at the splashier, jazzier side of the 20th-century repertory on Sunday afternoon, when he led the Portland Symphony Orchestra in works by Dmitri Shostakovich, Kurt Weill and Sergei Rachmaninoff.

It was a fairly safe program. Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto is always a crowd-pleaser, and Kurt Weill’s “Threepenny Opera” music has an ample constituency as well. And if Shostakovich’s eight-movement “Suite for Variety Orchestra No. 1” is little-known, it’s the kind of timbre-rich fluff that isn’t likely to curl listeners’ ears. In any case, this assembly paid off: The concert at Merrill Auditorium was sold out, and with a capacity crowd on hand, the orchestra played with an impressive vitality.

There was, of course, the question of what to make of the Shostakovich. This composer’s large catalog includes both sublime, powerful works like the Eighth Symphony, the Eighth String Quartet and the Cello Concerto, and stacks of propaganda works composed at the behest of the Soviet state. We tend to ignore the latter, taking them as the cost of doing business during the Stalin era (and a bit beyond). But the distance between top- and bottom-drawer Shostakovich is huge, and the “Suite for Variety Orchestra No. 1,” a compendium of movements from film scores, comes from the bottom half. It is rich in marches, waltzes and clatter, and short on substance.

But if you listen to it purely as an exercise in orchestration, and as a showpiece to test an orchestra’s mettle, it’s hard to fault. Shostakovich’s brass writing is sizzling, and the Portland Symphony’s brass played it as tightly and as energetically as you could want. Jazzy passages for saxophones and sliding trombones benefited similarly, and from top to bottom, across all its sections, the orchestra played with an admirable precision that made you wish the music at hand were more worthy of the effort.

Weill’s “Threepenny Opera,” a theater piece with roots in Weimar-era German cabaret, has become a standard repertory work since Weill’s death in 1950, and suites from it have become orchestral favorites, partly on the strength of popular melodies like “Die Moritat von Mackie Messer,” better known in English as “Mack the Knife,” and “Polly’s Song.” Typically, the suites are played by chamber orchestras, although large ensembles periodically take them on. Moody opted for a larger sound, and if that took the edge off some of the music, there were superb touches, including muted brass evocations of the vocal melodies, and solo turns for several of the players.

The concert’s real draw was the Rachmaninoff, with a young California pianist, Andrew von Oeyen, as the soloist. Reasonable Rachmaninoff fans disagree about whether the Second Concerto or the Third is greater. I lean toward the Third, mainly because of its subtle, winding opening theme and its driven, sparkling finale. All told, it demands both poetic introspection and virtuosic extraversion, and Mr. von Oeyen struck a fine balance between those qualities. The works’ demands were fully within his grasp, and he endowed the solo line in all three movements with a singing musicality, even in the brashest passages. Mr. Moody and the orchestra supported him ably, particularly the strings, which contributed a rich, rounded sound and the heftiness necessary to contain, without overcoming, the piano’s more assertive ruminations.

As an encore, von Oeyen gave a shapely account of a transcription of the “Meditation” from Massenet’s “Thaïs.”

Allan Kozinn is a former music critic and culture writer for The New York Times who lives in Portland. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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