W. Schuman: Symphony No. 5 ('Symphony for Strings'); Schnelzer: Oboe Concert ('The Enchanter'); Beethoven: Symphony no. 7

Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Storgårds

Queen's Hall, 22 November 2010 4.5 stars

Francois Leleux

Saturday evening's performance by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra showcased a remarkable programme led by Finnish conductor John Storgårds. The first movement of William Schuman's 5th Symphony consisted of an intriguing amalgamation of soaring chord progressions with influences of a Copland-like Americana idiom. The second movement began ethereal and eerily dissonant and yet with the certain familiarity of a Baroque chorale. The pizzicato in the cellos underneath the melody of the passacaglia in the violins created a dream-like effect. The third movement was a lush landscape of strings, a story of tension and release. Storgårds was effortless in his conducting as he maintained consistent control of the strings.

The UK premiere of Albert Schnelzer's Oboe Concerto, 'The Enchanter,' was successfully brought off. Soloist François Leleux took the oboe to new heights of expression. The concerto began with a menacingly mysterious introduction as Leleux's playing showcased his ability as an 'Enchanter' of the oboe. At times, the piece was reminiscent of a vintage-era detective thriller, the oboe contributing to the 1940's sound. The Second Scene followed with a tranquillity that retained the misterioso from the First Scene. The energy of the finale's Allegro took the concerto to a series of new climaxes, each followed by sprightly solos from Leleux that created waves of descending and ascending chromatic lines. Leleux is a true showman. However, his exaggerated circular movements and expressions, thankfully, did not detract from his performance of Schnelzer’s score.

His brilliance was highlighted in the first movement's cadenza and he exhibited great passion throughout the rest of the concerto. Schnelzer appeared overjoyed at the end result as he heartily thanked Leleux, Storgårds and the SCO. Immediately following the concerto, Leleux treated the enthusiastic audience to an encore of Telemann's Fantasie for solo oboe. More romantic than baroque, Leleux's playing was perhaps too ostentatious for the simplicity and clarity needed for this short work.

The evening's programme ended with a crowd-pleaser, Beethoven's 7th Symphony, a vibrant work of dynamic rhythmic proportion. Each and every instrument was heard clearly as Storgårds led his orchestra headfirst into the Beethovenian fury of this relentless work. The winds sang above the strings in the first movement, capturing the essence of its dance-like nature. The second movement's sombre and almost funereal sentiment continued to drive the symphony forward, and was followed by the exuberance of the third; its repetitive, circling passages contrasting with the nobler and calmer middle section. The finale Allegro con brio underscored Beethoven's obsessive nature; never ceasing, always propelling onward toward what Donald Francis Tovey described best as 'a triumph of Bacchic fury.'

Storgårds sustained excellent control throughout the evening’s performance. The precision, particularly careful in the contrasting expression within each work, seemed effortless. Not only did the Scottish Chamber Orchestra clearly excell working under Storgårds, they also seemed to be the perfect ensemble to accompany one of Schnelzer’s latest works, attentive and communicative as they were to Leleux’s needs as a soloist.

By Theresa Steward

Photo: Francois Leleux

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