Review: Hebrides Ensemble with François Leleux

First published in The Herald on 16 September, 2013

Hebrides Ensemble/Leleux
Yester House, Gifford

A cheer went up when it was announced French oboist François Leleux will be artist-in-residence of next year’s Lammermuir Festival. This is good news indeed for East Lothian audiences. Leleux makes an unparalleled sound on the instrument and his musical personality is generous and inventive. If he’s not as well known in the UK as he is in France and Germany, hopefully Lammermuir’s platform should go some way to correcting that.

Yester House made an ideal match, too: Leleux’s sound is as plush as the rococo plasterwork. Apparently it was the acoustics of the 18th Century ballroom that convinced Gian Carlo Menotti to buy this Adam père mansion back in the 1970s, and the space is just right for chamber music. Mozart’s Oboe Quartet sounded opulent and shapely, with sturdy backing from the Hebrides Ensemble’s strings, a luxurious Adagio and a rustic Rondeau that was more knees-up barn dance than polite ballroom fare. Leleux returned to the stage alone for Britten’s Six Metamorphoses after Ovid. Each movement depicts a mythical character and he responded vividly: Niobe’s lament was ardent, Bacchus was boozy and belligerent, Arethusa’s fountain of love welled up in an immense final note.

After the interval – cream teas on the lawn, no less – John Bevan Baker’s Duo made a perfect vehicle for Leleux’s rhapsodic playing, from husky tuning note to impassioned tangle and back again. Only Mozart’s Quintet in C minor K406 didn’t really add up. This was a wind serenade Mozart arranged for string quintet; Leleux played the first violin line and was too dominant in the texture. But that’s a minor quibble: this was a splendid recital.