Sheku Kanneh-Mason/Isata Kanneh-Mason, King’s Place, London, review: A star duo is born

The 2016 BBC Young Musician Sheku Kannah-Mason was accompanied by his sister Isata for this recital 

Michael Church
Wednesday 25 October 2017 13:40
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The cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason performed at King's Place with his sister Isata
The cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason performed at King's Place with his sister Isata

The career of 18-year-old Sheku Kanneh-Mason has so far gone straight as an arrow. Starting the cello at six, he passed Grade 8 at nine with the highest marks in Britain; after starring with his siblings on Britain’s Got Talent, he went on to become BBC Young Musician of the Year at sixteen with a blistering account of Shostakovich’s first cello concerto. This summer he made his first-ever visit to the Proms, but not as a member of the audience: he was there as soloist with the BME – black and minority-ethnic – Chineke Orchestra.

His concert at King’s Place represented another milestone, in that this was his first solo recital. But it also reflected something else, for his piano accompanist was his elder sister Isata – the tip of an iceberg, in that there are five other Kanneh-Masons waiting in the wings: all are musicians, all are seriously talented.

The opening work was Sheku’s alone: Gaspar Cassado’s Suite for Solo Cello whose first movement, with clear echoes of Bach’s solo style, emerged with nobility. Sheku’s firm and authoritative sound allowed the measured gravity of the dance behind the music of the second movement to flower; if his intonation in the rapid sardana was at times slightly off, that did not mar its convivial impetuosity; his ruminative pizzicato chords had a guitar-like sweetness. In Beethoven’s Cello Sonata in G minor which followed, brother and sister played symbiotically, teasing out the alternating grandeur and pathos of the Adagio, giving the instrumental dialogue of the middle movement a forceful muscularity, and taking the false endings of the finale as an excuse for dignified playfulness.

A pause to replace a theatrically-breaking string in the first movement of Shostakovich’s Cello Sonata in D minor – followed by a repeat – gave us a chance to get to know that somewhat rebarbative work a bit better. Sheku gave its Largo a yearningly elegiac tone, and for the whirling finale he roughened his sound exhilaratingly while Isata stressed the angularities of her piano part.

This was a triumphant coming-out for these immensely engaging players: a star duo is born.

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