It can’t have been mere coincidence that French oboist and conductor François Leleux was making his debut directing the SCO just a day after the ensemble had announced its 2018-19 season – in which he will be with them for three concerts. If this was a taster of what’s to come, we have plenty to get excited about.
Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh *****
As an oboist, Leleux is a remarkably charismatic, flamboyant performer, matching immaculate technique with a dazzlingly vivid identification with his music. Those qualities continue in his conducting – detailed, demanding, but full of such abundant enthusiasm that you’re swept up in it from the first moment. The SCO musicians seemed to lap it up, in playing of immense freedom that glowed from within.
So immediate was Leleux’s opening Fauré Pelléas et Mélisande Suite that it felt like we’d begun a novel half-way through a sentence, and here – and throughout, in fact – he matched impeccable surface elegance with a turmoil of churning emotions underneath. His closing Bizet Symphony in C was brisk, urgent, full of bite, and as playful as you could ever want it to be.
In between came two concertos. Leleux himself was soloist in Lebrun’s D minor Oboe Concerto, adroitly directing from his instrument and finding remarkable colours and moods in among Lebrun’s fearsomely virtuosic writing. SCO principal flautist Alison Mitchell stepped out of the ensemble as soloist in Bernstein’s Halil, a tribute to a young Israeli soldier killed in the Yom Kippur War, making brilliant sense of Bernstein’s switchback moods and materials.
Leleux and Mitchell came together in a witty duo encore from Bizet’s Carmen – one just as warm and generous as the concert overall had been.