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Performers’ sheer brilliance

Isata and Sheku Kanneh-Mason at West Wight Arts Association.

Isata and Sheku Kanneh-Mason at West Wight Arts Association.

Jane Clutterbuck

Monday, October 23, 2017 - 10:00

THE honour of holding the BBC Young Musician title carries with it great challenges, one being audiences with the highest expectations of technical virtuosity combined with mastery and brilliance.
And so it was last Saturday at the West Wight Arts Association concert, where the full house eagerly anticipated the gifted duo of cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason and pianist, his sister Isata.
Playing a beautiful Amati cello (from around 1610), Sheku began with a Catalan-inspired Suite for Cello Solo (1926) by Gaspar Cassado. He coaxed, teased and demanded a myriad of tonal colours throughout the range of the instrument — such expressive playing was a joy to hear.
His total command was evident from the first note to the last with faultless techniques, such as double and triple stops, thumb stops and the particularly demanding harmonic passages which created a wonderful stillness in the hall. At times it was difficult to believe just one cello (and one cellist) was playing.
Isata joined her brother for Beethoven’s G minor Cello Sonata of 1796, a time when the cello was still seen very much as the keeper of the bass line with little potential as a soloist.
Beethoven soon changed that and solved the problem of balance — the cello of his day with its gut strings was much softer than the constantly developing piano with its increasing capacity for volume — by sharing the melody between the two instruments.
Sheku and Isata were equal partners in this work, as Beethoven intended — their awareness of balance evidenced in the way they seamlessly switched roles from soloist to accompanist.
It was an exciting and assured performance from these two virtuosi, which covered the gamut of emotions with expressiveness and maturity far beyond their years.
After the interval, we were treated to yet more sheer brilliance with Shostakovich’s 1934 Cello Sonata in D minor.
Again, the duo enthralled the audience with their amazing ability for imparting passion, pathos and raw emotion of the kind that makes the hairs on the back of your head stand up (especially in the boisterous and exciting Scherzo).
Every note, even when a passage was both quiet and rapid, was audible and the accuracy of both performers was remarkable. It was an exceptional performance and was greeted with rapturous applause and a well-deserved standing ovation.
A short but lovely encore followed, an arrangement of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.
It was a privilege to be in the audience at this truly memorable concert. What wonderful ambassadors these two young people are for classical music — the future is in good hands.
The next concert with Castalian Quartet and pianist Michael Dussek is on Saturday, November 11.

 


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