SCO / Leleux
City Halls, Glasgow
It is a terrible thing to say of a Frenchman, especially one who cuts a sartorial dash on the podium, but Francois Leleux is not the most elegant of conductors in his gestures. He is, however, supremely eloquent, his intention always clear and his stick hand unafraid to ensure that everyone is on the beat.
So the unusual lack of sparkle in some of the playing from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra on Friday night was not down to him, and nor could the blame be laid at the door of the SCO winds, who tend to pull out all the stops for their kindred spirit, whether or not Leleux is actually playing his oboe.
Best guess might be in the absence of familiar faces leading the lower strings, although the guest musicians in their place were all quality performers in their own right. The difference was perhaps marginal, but detectable, especially after the interval with a perfectly fine, but not in any way exceptional, account of Schubert’s Symphony No 4, the somewhat ill-named “Tragic”, and in Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, which preceded it and was less meteorologically dramatic than it can be.
The more interesting music was in the first half, when Leleux was the soloist in fellow oboist Andreas Tarkmann’s recent arrangement for oboe and strings of Mendelssohn’s popular piano pieces, Songs Without Words. Leleux played six of the seven, chosen it would seem for the contrasts they offered. Here was the small double-reed instrument showing off its full range and a dazzling tonal palette. It would be wrong to describe the result as a demonstration of virtuosity, rather it is a showpiece for the capabilities of the instrument.
It is said that Louise Farrenc was acclaimed by Paris in the same era as Mendelssohn for the novelty of her gender as a composer as much as for the quality of the music. Contemporary sexism, on the other hand, simply underrates her if her Symphony No 3 in G Minor from 1847 is any guide. She clearly owes a debt to Beethoven, but there is no plagiarism in her work, rather a shared language and compositional techniques, particularly in the outer movements.
The heart of the work is a beautifully-shaped, if melodically unmemorable slow movement, with first clarinet Maximiliano Martin in the lead role, and a terrific Scherzo, which trips along at pace and has the better tune.