Young Felix Mendelssohn couldn’t quite handle the level of applause from the London audience for premiere of his first piano concerto, and felt too shy to return to the platform for a bow.

Today, a similar reaction greeted Howard Shelley’s performance, but the distinguished English pianist and conductor gracefully acknowledged the roars of appreciation with the provision of a rare encore in the middle of the concert. Leading the orchestra from the keyboard requires an extraordinary dexterity of mind and hand as well as a sublime musicality.

It was an astonishing feat; the G minor concerto is technically demanding, however beautifully written, and extremely fast. Shelley sits high at the piano before an iPad version of the score, occasionally conducting with the left hand and playing with the right. It may lack harmonic bite, but the concerto has more than high-spirited dash and youthful charm and remains one of the most popular romantic compositions of its kind.

Schubert Symphony No. 8 (Unfinished) began the afternoon, reminding us that however familiar and beloved this piece may be, hearing a live performance by the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of a great musician brings new depths and new understanding. Shelley’s extended phrasing and perfectly shaped melodic line bestowed a rich colouring, so often flattened by electronic broadcast and recordings, to a symphony whose two movements are so outstanding that no more was ever necessary.

Concluding composition was Dvorak Symphony No. 6, nationalism on a generous and ingratiating scale, music full of Bohemian dances and folk tunes. The slow movement is one of Dvorak’s most striking, allowing poignant woodwinds to sound with particular beauty before a lively scherzo labelled “furiant” and a wistfully elegiac trio.

The orchestra acquitted themselves with the distinction of their conductor, brass and woodwind sections – peculiarly vital for Mendelssohn and Dvorak.