Pianists will tell you that it is relatively easy to play their instrument loudly. Doing so without also playing harshly is a more difficult matter. Volume isn't everything; finesse counts too.

In Friday evening's Minnesota Orchestra concert, the Canadian pianist Louis Lortie gave an object lesson in how to make thunderously loud eruptions from the keyboard seem like more than pianistic muscle-flexing and machismo.

In Liszt's First Piano Concerto, that is an important skill to muster. The work is frequently criticized as superficial and exhibitionistic, and in some performances it is.

Not in this one. Lortie's most volcanic bursts of passage-work were satisfyingly full in tone, with none of the brittle crumbling that results when soloists are simply pummeling the notes mindlessly.

The runs, trills and arabesques had elegance and dignity, an almost Chopinesque sophistication as beguiling as it was viscerally exciting.

Lortie had deep poetry too, in the brief but touching slow movement, and in the gentle ebb and flow of the reflective meanderings that follow the concerto's dramatic opening.

There is probably no reconciling the piece's virtually bipolar lurching from explosive extroversion to introspective musing.

But Lortie lent dignity and gravitas to both these elements of Liszt's creative personality in a riveting performance where his scintillating virtuosity was never used simply for audience-wowing purposes.

Conductor Markus Stenz secured a vigilant accompaniment from the orchestra, relishing the spurt of wild activity at the concerto's almost impossibly pumped-up conclusion.

Extreme mood shifts are also a feature of Schumann's Second Symphony, which came after the intermission.

Stenz was again in his element in the work's ebullient finale, at one point dropping his arms below waist level and swaying like a happy dad dancer from side to side on the podium.

The orchestra's playing surged with energy, as it had done earlier in the hyperactive scherzo, where the strings made cogent sense of Schumann's trickily accented writing.

Between these movements came the wounded adagio espressivo, bearing the clear, disturbing imprint of the depressive episodes that Schumann was increasingly prone to as he got older.

Perhaps sensibly, Stenz kept this slow movement moving purposefully forward. Some of the music's pain and tragedy were diluted, but Stenz ensured that it never became self-pitying or morbid.

Impassioned playing from the violins in the two upwardly aspiring climaxes and a poignant solo by principal oboe John Snow were memorable.

A slimmed-down version of the orchestra opened the concert with Wagner's "Siegfried Idyll," a piece originally written as a surprise present for his wife Cosima's 33rd birthday.

Stenz coaxed plenty of tenderness from the players, although as in the Schumann symphony the music was never allowed to become cloying.

The fade to near-inaudibility at the Idyll's rapt conclusion was beautifully managed — a moment of uncomplicated placidity, like a long day ending happily, or a child slipping peacefully into deep slumber.

Terry Blain is a freelance classical music critic for the Star Tribune. Reach him at artsblain@gmail.com.