It’s asking for trouble when an agent puts out a biography describing its subject as “recognised throughout the world as the best oboist of his generation”; you can sense the hubris gleefully waiting to pounce.
But there were certainly wonders in Francois Leleux’ account with the CBSO of the autumnal, delicious Oboe Concerto by Richard Strauss. His phrasing was mellifluous, and as open-air as the composer’s beloved Bavarian Alps; interchanges with orchestral soloists were sparkling and well dovetailed (special plaudits to violist Chris Yates); flourishes danced as though from panpipes, and he painted piquant shades of colour.
And for once I welcomed the encore, Gluck’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Orpheus and Euridice, otherworldly and evocative.
Nichols Collon was the conductor of this programme where every work was completed in 1945, beginning with the Four Sea Interludes from Britten’s Peter Grimes. Am I alone in finding this overplayed music so tedious out of context? And finding references to Mahler, Mozart and Britten’s reviled Brahms in it?
Never mind, the performance here was glorious: strings phrasing as one, sonorous brass, flickering woodwind, crisply assertive timpani all contributing to a taut, compact orchestral sound.
Copland’s masterpiece, Appalachian Spring, was beautifully built under Collon, busy and glowing in its continuity as it moved from opening peace to a hushed sunset ending, with a narrative sense of release midway as Katherine Lacy’s expressive clarinet launched into Simple Gifts.
And Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony, crisp, sardonic and lairy, might have been allowed a little more breathing-space for its bitter witticisms to tell. There were some beautifully-cushioned string caresses, brilliant trumpet solos from Jonathan Holland, and an imposing bassoon solo from Johan Lammerse. But – and I never thought I’d write this – in an important passage towards the end the brass were drowned out by the strings!