Oboe maestro Francois Leleux shines while conductor buries his head
City Chamber Orchestra
Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall
What a treat to have Francois Leleux in town. The principal oboe with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, he is arguably the foremost solo oboist of his time. What a responsibility for the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong to be asked to match his musicianship in the two concertos he fronted.
First up was Cimarosa's late 18th-century Oboe Concerto in C Minor, which is a modern arrangement of four of his keyboard sonatas, cobbled together by the Australian composer Arthur Benjamin.
Leleux's liquid sound and flexible phrasing immediately set the tone for all that was to flow from his instrument. His exquisite soft register and delicate inflections may not warrant the exaggerated body movements he makes to accompany them, but these were readily sublimated into the overall experience of a master plying his craft.
Chief conductor Jean Thorel had his head buried in the score, which was not reassuring. During Richard Strauss' Oboe Concerto, written in 1945, Thorel seemed at a loss with the passages of delicate scoring that intend a Mozartian lightness and a chamber music balance; detailed interplay was frequently lost.
Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings kicked off with a solid wall of sound and a vastly improved sense of ensemble, but subtlety of line was in short supply.
The society waltz that forms the second movement was indecently fast, with empty gestures from Thorel that produced little musical response. Tchaikovsky paints an elegiac atmosphere into the third movement, but the players needed more warmth. The folky Russian, knees-up finale ran fast and furious, but remained a couple of tots short of a vodka bottle below the surface.