CBSO review 18.10.18

Brahms and Haydn

CBSO at Birmingham Town Hall *****

Fran├žois Leleux is that rare commodity in classical music – a character. He wore tails but no tie, collar raffishly unbuttoned with, at one point, his oboe hanging from a loop at his left side, gun-slinger style. With a cheeky grin often creasing his Mr Punch features Leleux oozed amiability: he was clearly intent on having a good time and wanted the players and the audience to join him. We did, and the concert ended as a three-way love-in, happily humming the encore as we departed – a snippet from the Largo of Dvorak's ninth symphony with Leleux on cor anglais – or "Going 'ome" as he succinctly put it.

He began by conducting a pleasant, if slightly under-characterized, set of Brahms' Variations on a Theme by Haydn but then delighted us with a dazzling performance of Haydn's Oboe Concerto in C major. Haydn's original soloist, white-wigged and in servant's livery, couldn't have careened and capered like Leleux nor, I expect, produce such liquid tones, easeful runs, gentle lyricism in the Andante and so chirpy a finale. In an arrangement of Debussy'sRhapsody for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra Leleux's cor anglais playing made this version seem like the original, the instrument's plangency and melancholy melting into colourful exoticism (shades of Images). In Bizet's corking little Symphony in C – a Mozart-class effort for a 17-year-old – Leleux inspired the CBSO into a performance where elegance, vim and vivacity combined perfectly. Rainer Gibbons' slinky seductive oboe playing in the Adagio won him a bear-hug from Leleux.

Norman Stinchcombe

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