BBC SSO / Leleux

City Halls, Glasgow

One of the curious outcomes of the past 20 months, where orchestras have trawled the catalogues for music suited to restricted numbers, has been the emergence of obscure repertoire and neglected composers. Now, slightly perversely, these composers are surfacing repeatedly. One example is the 19th century French composer Louise Farrenc. She came to light last season courtesy of the SCO. Here she was again, in the company of Mendelssohn and Mozart, in a concert by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

It was short and sweet, her brief but bullish Overture No 1 in E minor lasting a mere 7 minutes, but how well it held its head high in such illustrious company. Helping make its point was French oboist-cum-conductor François Leleux, whose flirtatious charisma secured a shapely, directional performance. If there are clear echoes of Beethoven in Farrenc’s motivic shape and structure, there is also a suppleness of invention that is nearer to Schumann and preemptive even of Wagner. Like so much of this programme, the SSO was in a resilient mood.

This was in a second half that ended with Mendelssohn’s “Italian” Symphony, delivered with the same illuminating clarity that had already made such a distinctive impression prior to the interval. Leleux had opened with the same composer’s overture for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, failing for a brief moment to pull the strings convincingly together in the scurrying fairy dust opening. But it was a transient issue, cancelled immediately in a performance notable thereafter for its delicious textural subtleties and gripping expressiveness.

Then a piece of virtual theatre. Leleux, now armed with oboe, took on the dual role of soloist and director in his own suite of arrangements of six operatic arias by Mozart, selected from The Magic Flute and Don Giovanni. This was the jewel of the evening, facilitated as much by the skilfulness of Leleux’s virtuoso adaptations – from thrill-a-minute ornamentation of the melodies to mischievous quirks in which he pinched instrumental snippets for himself – as by the extraordinary, often whimsical, versatility of his dazzling technique. Needless to say, encores were demanded and duly delivered.

There was a sense in Leleux’s relationship with the SSO that the chemistry between them was increasing by the minute. So when it came to the closing Mendelssohn symphony it simply breezed along. Again, irrepressible energy and tight-knit detail informed the performance. But there was a natural sweetness in the Andante, and an effortless elegance in the minuet that countered the Mediterranean tang of the outer movements.  

Ken Walton

This concert will be broadcast on Radio 3 and BBC Sounds on 14 October, thereafter available to stream or download for 30 days