Music review: BBC SSO & François Leleux, City Halls, Glasgow

French oboist and conductor François Leleux brought a winning mixture of virtuosity, theatricality and wit to this thoroughly refreshing concert, writes Ken Walton

François Leleux PIC: Jean-Baptiste Millot

BBC SSO & François Leleux, City Halls, Glasgow ****

How lucky we are that world-class oboist François Leleux, on making a successful move into the conducting world, continued playing his instrument. For justification look no further than that sparkling moment in Thursday’s BBC SSO concert when he adopted the dual role of solo-director in a sequence of Mozart operatic arias – four from The Magic Flute, two from Don Giovanni – in his own arrangements for oboe and orchestra.

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Not only did it provide the most musically intoxicating item in a programme directed entirely by Leleux, but it was brilliantly virtuosic, memorable also for the theatricality and wit of the personable Frenchman’s physical delivery.

He has clearly devised these as bespoke showpieces. In familiar numbers, ranging from the famous Birdcatcher’s Song to Don Giovanni’s enchanting Canzonetta “Deh vieni all finestra”, every nuance in the oboe vocabulary played its part, not least its furthest extremes of pitch. Dazzling variations, woody cantabile, even trumpet-like clarion calls proved part of the armoury. Not unexpectedly, Leleux had a few extra arias up his sleeve as encores. A class act.

The SSO clearly thought so. In these, and in the wider programme, the infectiousness of Leleux’s energetic charisma made its mark. The concert opened with Mendelssohn’s overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the electrifying clarity of which – how often do you hear the subtleties of the tuba part? – conjured up a compelling vision of its filigree magic and mischief.

There was more Mendelssohn, but not before Leleux made a strong case for the forgotten 19th century French female composer, Louise Farrenc. Her Overture in E minor, consummately crafted with influences from Beethoven and pre-echoes of Wagner, sat proudly with Mendelssohn’s “Italian” Symphony, the zest and sweetness of which provided a thrilling conclusion to a thoroughly refreshing concert.

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