Tchaikovsky's

Symphony No. 3

has never quite taken off. The listening public adores the

Fourth

,

Fifth

, and

Sixth

, but mention the

Third

and you draw a stare.

Is it that ideas in the Third, the "Polish," are exploited with greater economy and real edge in other Tchaikovsky works? Or has it suffered from inconsistent advocacy from the podium?

Italian conductor Gianandrea Noseda brought it out of the shadows Thursday night in Verizon Hall. His concepts of a lean sound and flexible beat were beneficial counterpoint to the Philadelphia Orchestra's natural inclination to swaddle Tchaikovsky in extra time and upholstery. The orchestra's last performance of the work was two decades ago, and so there is not institutional memory of it. But that descending, minor four-note phrase? Isn't it also found in the Piano Concerto No. 1 (written at the same time)? Tchaikovsky is native territory to this orchestra.

Admirably, Noseda took the discursive material of the first movement and shaped it into something considerably more compelling. The fat sound this orchestra can produce wasn't there, but neither was its sometimes frustrating intractability. Third-movement solos by flutist Jeffrey Khaner and bassoonist Daniel Matsukawa were sweet, but hornist Jeffrey Lang's way of finishing off the last solo with a touch of vibrato was intelligently dosed and touching - a short, sophisticated vocalise.

First-chair players were in place for the Tchaikovsky, but not entirely in Borodin's Overture to Prince Igor, and with some unhappy consequences. More often, covering prominent parts by reaching deeper into sections yields riches, but this night, with mishaps especially in the horn section, suggested a bench less deep than it ought to be.

The audience went wild over the Tchaikovsky but was mysteriously less demonstrative after the Elgar Cello Concerto. Yes, a standing ovation eventually took form. But a spontaneous roar would have been appropriate for Alisa Weilerstein's individuality.

It's hard to imagine a player with a more complex and varied sound, or access to a deeper well of emotions. She was by turns lithe, penetrating, mournful, fragile, and heroic. The way she paced out the concerto's end was a masterly piece of navigation - trembling in those moments before bringing back material from the second movement, and with daring tenderness just before the first-movement opening gesture returns.

It was an act of vulnerability one rarely hears in public, even in our confessional age.

Additional performance:

8 p.m. Saturday at the

Kimmel Center. Information: 215-893-1999 or www.philorch.org

Contact Peter Dobrin

at 215-854-5611 or pdobrin@phillynews.com.

Read his blog at www.philly.com/artswatch.