Francois Leleux – Oboist and Conductor
“Leleux….. has an engaging conducting style relating to, rather than directing, the orchestra.”
My mother spoke little of her life before her children were born, but it was clearly an interesting one. The youngest of six children of a Northamptonshire shoe manufacturer and general bigwig, the first of her family to go to Oxford (and a woman to boot) and a wartime spent at Bletchley Park. But what I remember most clearly, as we were both musical (at Oxford she sang in Ted Heath’s Bach Choir), was her telling me of her experience kissing an oboist whom she went out with for a while at University. She told of his incredible muscular lips (by virtue of the necessary embouchure of blowing two reeds together) which made the embrace distinctly unusual. As a result oboists – and the oboe (I love its clear, piercing tone, as did she) – have held a particular fascination for me, although I have never kissed one, reserving my affections quite by chance for the string section.
Consequently the SCO’s appointment of premier oboist Francois Leleux as an artist in residence for the 2018/19 season was a must-see. I could not get to the first two gigs but enjoyed Thursday’s “Three Serenades” Concert enormously.
Generally, I have reservations about soloists who migrate into conductoring, even of the musical standard of Ashkenazy and Rostropovich, as it is a bit like film stars wanting to be directors: they rarely cut the mustard. However, it has to be said that Leleux, either with baton or more restrained with instrument in mouth, has an engaging conducting style relating to, rather than directing, the orchestra.
Our first work was Hugo Wolf’s Italian Serenade, played in a splendidly happy rendition that clearly showed a bond between conductor and orchestra. Good tempi, very together for so early on in the evening, a surprisingly enjoyable piece from this manic depressive composer written before the dark times took over his life.
Next up was Dvorak’s Serenade in D minor, Op.44. A wind ensemble of ten, including contrabassoon, accompanied by cello and bowed double bass, all standing save the latter two; this time with Leleux taking the oboe lead as well as directing. Leleux’s tone was clear, fresh without being over bright, at times soaring over the rest of the ensemble. In the third movement Andante con moto he engaged in charming interplay with the clarinettist opposite. It was good to get our fix of the great man.
After the interval we heard by far the most substantive work of the evening, Brahms’s Serenade No 1 in D major, Op.11 with the full 40 strong orchestra on stage, quite an upgrade from its original conception as a nonet. Albeit written earlier on in his career alongside the Piano Concerto No.1 this is a mature work with a great deal more roundedness and depth than the rustic Bohemian fare we received earlier. In six varied movements ranging from close harmonies in the brass to full on orchestral romance, pretty little wind passages accompanied by the put-put of the bassoon and a mad rush to the finish, one was reminded of the near chaotic finish to the Academic Festival Overture.
Perhaps my only regret of the Leleux season was that he played only one concerto throughout, the Haydn. One would have wished for the Mozart with its glorious third movement Rondo. Never mind, it is always best to be left wanting more.
Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 28 March)
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