This concert, as the programme told us, featured composers who all were hits, one way or another, with their public – and, I suppose, other subsequent publics. But Strauss tone poems and Rachmaninov piano concertos hardly come less popular than those we heard here.

Leif Ove Andsnes © Özgür Albayrak
Leif Ove Andsnes
© Özgür Albayrak

Strauss’s Macbeth (composed 1886-88) seems at least to be witnessing a small upsurge in its fortunes, and this concert’s conductor, the Colombian Andrés Orozco-Estrada, has recently recorded it with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, of which he has been chief conductor since 2014.

Pitting stern martial themes for Macbeth against the insidious, seductive themes of his wife, it was performed here with bite and vigour and, from Orozco-Estrada, a firm control and discipline. He charted a well-planned course through its 18 minutes, even if he did nothing to tone down its brassy excesses. But though the piece has its champions, there’s no hiding the fact that it lacks the psychological complexity and compelling musical narrative of Strauss’s later tone poems, or even their complex autobiographical dimensions. Still, you’ll have to go some way to hear it better played than it was here.

Rachmaninov’s Fourth Piano Concerto occupies something like the opposite position: the final, enigmatic, mercurial essay in a genre which had brought the composer so much success, and similarly a work much revised and trimmed before it reached its final version in 1941. It too has had notable champions over the years, namely pianists who have admired its questioning attitude to the virtuoso rhetoric that defined Rachmaninov’s first three concertos.

Here, Leif Ove Andsnes brought what felt like exactly the right mixture of coolness and pent-up passion to piano writing that is constantly pulling away, rarely asserting what it hints at. The first movement plays out a constant tension between grandiloquence and apparent uncertainty, and this was a line that Andsnes’s negotiated expertly, with crystalline technique and clear-sighted musical intelligence.

He captured the gentle tristesse of the “Largo” movingly, too, and brought quicksilver lightness to the darting finale. Orozco-Estrada and the orchestra accompanied with rare sensitivity, with the wind solos predictably fine and the veiled passion of the violin’s big theme in the “Largo” sung out with supreme eloquence. As an encore, Andsnes treated us to a Sibelius Romance (No. 9 from his 10 Pieces) played with the utmost tenderness and musicality.

We were back on more familiar soil after the interval with Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, where Orozco-Estrada once more showed the very solid virtues of his conducting. He marshalled his forces expertly and intelligently in a reading of fierce conviction and bright, brilliant playing from the orchestra. The conductor is perhaps not one to push a performance to extremes – the opening statement could have had more of a sense of granitic force, the ironies of the “Allegretto” a fiercer bite – and overall the coloristic palette could have been wider.

However, this was an account that never lost the symphonic sense of the whole, and one that was especially eloquent in its many moments of equivocal beauty. The horn’s duet with the flute in the first movement was heart-breaking (Eric Terwilliger, the Bavarian Radio Symphony’s principal horn, joining flautist Michael Hasel), while the violins’ many, numbly soaring lines were beautifully done. In fact, the whole string section, especially in the “Adagio”, showed why they’re quite possibly the best in the world, with concertmaster Daishin Kashimoto leading from the front with unassumingly brilliant solos.

There were other outstanding individual contributions (including the excellent Karoline Zurl, from the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester, guesting as solo bassoon), and the overall virtuosity was what one would expect from this band – not least in a thrilling finale. That finale was overwhelmingly brash and loud, admittedly, but that’s arguably precisely what Shostakovich was after.