This concert by the Delaware Symphony Orchestra under its music director David Amado was noteworthy for its memorable presentation of Sir Edward Elgar's Cello Concerto in E minor, with guest soloist Camille Thomas. It was an interpretation that brought to mind Jacqueline du Pré's legendary account of this autumnal score.

Camille Thomas © Dan Carabas | Deutsche Grammophon
Camille Thomas
© Dan Carabas | Deutsche Grammophon

Thomas' command of the instrument is extraordinary. All of the technical chops are there: incredible technique, flawless intonation and an ability to coax impressive sound from her ca. 1730 "Feuermann" Stradivarius instrument. I was particularly impressed with the manner in which the dynamic ranges were finely calibrated.

Memorable highlights of the four sections of the concerto included the expressive theme of the opening movement, the breathtaking pyrotechnics of the Scherzo and the incisive finale. Throughout these sections it was clear from her expressiveness that Thomas wasn't merely playing the notes, but really living the moments. Perhaps most impressive of all was the contemplative third movement, where the performance achieved its greatest emotional heights. Here, soloist and orchestra seemed to be at one, conveying a quiet intensity that was, in a word, spellbinding. Indeed, throughout the entire concerto, Amado and the Delaware players proved to be worthy collaborators with Thomas, with notable interaction and cueing between the conductor and the soloist.

In all, the Elgar performance was a truly special experience. In response to the audience's appreciative reception, Thomas presented an encore – Pablo Casals' famous arrangement of the Catalan folk melody Song of the Birds. An understated piece played with simplicity and elegance, it was the perfect cap on the extraordinary concerto performance.

The other memorable offering of the evening was Sergei Rachmaninov's Symphony no. 1 in D minor. An early composition – premiered in 1897 when the composer was just 24 – the symphony was a failure and Rachmaninov withdrew the work. The music would come to light again only in the late 1940s after the composer's death.

The First Symphony is something of a museum piece, enabling us to peek into the early work of Rachmaninov, free from any later revisions – something he would do with a good number of his other orchestral works. In some ways this is the most “Russian” of Rachmaninov's three symphonies, and that sense of Russian soul was emphasized in Amado's interpretation. One could hear as much Lyapunov or Kalinnikov as Rachmaninov in the way the orchestra dug into the symphony's declamatory opening statement and other tutti passages in the first movement. Tempos throughout tended to be on the brisk side – a good interpretive choice – while Amado brought to light the interplay between the woodwind instruments very successfully, particularly in the lithe second movement. The third movement Larghetto is where some of the symphony's flaws are most noticeable, with some overly discursive passages that are nearly impossible to bring off convincingly. Likewise, the musical ideas in the finale seem a little disjointed in places, but it brims with excitement, and the Delaware players did not disappoint in delivering on that score.

It's probable that, had Rachmaninov returned to this early symphony and reworked it, the end-result would have been a tighter, tauter work, shorn of its more rhetorical moments. But even so, it's a treat to hear this music as it is: a score fairly bursting with musical ideas and with obvious audience appeal. Judging from the number of concert performances that it receives – Bachtrack has published just six reviews of this symphony to date compared to more than 60 for Rachmaninov's Second – orchestras should present this music much more often than they do.

****1