A composer's gift to a loved one could often be an emotional work requiring meticulous technique infused with feeling. The challenge is to recognize those components in equal measure.

Italian pianist Benedetto Lupo, who makes his debut with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra on Saturday evening at Strathmore, acknowledges the musical nuances essential to understanding and performing Bartok's Piano Concerto No. 3, the piece he is pleased to perform with the BSO under the baton of guest conductor Juanjo Mena.

"I do not believe in meticulous playing without sensitivity," said Lupo. "That doesn't make sense to me. [Bartok] used Hungarian rhythms and changing scales, but at the same time, [the piece] is very classic in structure -- a real concerto with three movements. Many times, it really sounds like Bach."

However, the Piano Concerto No. 3 is a product of 20th-century composition, and it would be Bartok's last. It was conceived as a birthday present to his wife and almost finished when he died of leukemia in September 1945. It was completed by a friend and pupil of Bartok, who drew from his teacher's notes. Compared with earlier works, this piece bears a light, airy, almost neoclassical style.

BSO performs Bartok, Dvorak and Tchaikovsky
Where:Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda
When:8 p.m. Saturday
Info:$30 to $90; 410-783-8000; bsomusic.org

"When you play [the concerto], you speak about all of these things," Lupo continued. "I really like the breath of looseness and action in this piece, and this is what I really hope will come out from my performance."

As a complement to Bartok's work, the evening's performance opens with Dvorak's Selections from "Slavonic Dances," with Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4 closing the program. The back story of this symphony is one of sadness and conflict, written at a turbulent period in Tchaikovsky's life.