A PASSIONATE performance of Rachmaninov’s second symphony was delivered by the BSO and enigmatic conductor Antonio Méndez on Wednesday night.

The concert hall was packed full of people who first enjoyed some Beethoven, starting with the Overture Leonore No.1, one of the four overtures associated with his opera Fidelio.

As the tempo became more energised, the animated Méndez led the orchestra to a rousing finale. Pianist Saleem Ashkar, whose focus this season is Beethoven, then came on stage where he effortlessly played the composer’s piano concerto no.2.

The chromatic passages in the opening allegro allowed the soloist to show off his impressively light touch before he lulled the audience in the serene second movement.

The alternating phrases of piano and orchestra in the finale were seamless and a highlight of the impressive performance.

The second half saw the focus turn to Rachmaninov and Méndez allowed a longer pause before the first atmospheric notes were played.

The title of the evening’s concert, Russian Fire, was appropriate given the evocative nature of the symphony.

The BSO recommended imagining the embers of a log fire amid a dark Russian winter’s night, and the opening movement certainly conjured this mental picture.

As the symphony progressed, the orchestra captured the subtle range of emotions underlying each movement, culminating in a lively and optimistic finale which drew a cheer from the audience even before the final notes had sounded.