Festival Music

Sheku & Isata Kanneh-Mason

Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Keith Bruce

four stars

THE programme that BBC Young Musician 2016, cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, and his pianist sister Isata brought to the Festival’s morning recital series at the Queen’s Hall was so carefully sequenced it was almost a shame that it was interrupted by an interval.

In this menu, Beethoven’s 12 Variations on Ein Madchen oder Weibchen, Papageno’s aria in Mozart’s The Magic Flute, was a light starter, one that the composer very possibly envisaged being played by siblings. The very spare piano treatment of the tune at the start becomes increasingly complex and demanding as the piece progresses, and the older Kanneh-Mason displayed more shades of dynamic colouring in her playing as it unfolded.

From then on, however, the works were interlinked, with the Debussy-remembering Grave from 1981 by Poland’s Witold Lutoslawski - an expressive work for the cellist demanding close communication between the musicians, and beautifully poised at its conclusion here - followed by Debussy’s Cello Sonata of 1915, with its exotic Serenade and well-known melody in the Finale.

Interval aside, that led naturally into Faure’s Elegie, a single movement from an early Sonata, in which a spritely middle section provides relief from what is doleful opening tune on the cello. The concluding work on the programme, Mendelssohn’s D Major Cello Sonata No.2, includes a third movement cello Adagio that is only a little less mournful, introduced by rippling chords on the piano. The sonata is almost a miniature guide to the composer, because although it comes from the same era as his “Scottish” Symphony, the opening movement is melodically reminiscent of his Octet, from half a tragically short life previously. The eloquent and witty dialogue of the second movement is more of a piece with the mature composer, while the fast finale is kin to the contemporaneous Violin Concerto.

It was back to the soulful depths for the first encore - the pair’s own arrangement of the song Deep River, embarked on so swiftly of asking that the message of a shared tone with the earlier European music was abundantly clear. Although many mistake it for such, Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah is not really in the same ballpark at all, but, after a little discussion, that was what the duo left us with. It was also cheered to the rafters by a packed house.