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Traditional: Blow the Wind Southerly (arr. Sheku Kanneh-Mason) – Scarborough Fair (arr. Simon Parkin) [1]
Sir Edward Elgar: Enigma Variations, opus 36: Variation IX (Adagio) “Nimrod” (arr. Simon Parkin) [2] – Romance in D minor, opus 62 (arr. Simon Parkin) [3] – Cello Concerto in E minor, opus 85 [4]
Frank Bridge: 4 Short Pieces for Violin and Piano, H104: “Spring Song” (arr. Simon Parkin) [5]
Ernest Bloch: Prélude, B63 [6] – From Jewish Life, B54: “Prayer n° 1” (arr. Braimah and Sheku Kanneh-Mason) [7]
Gabriel Fauré: Elégie in C minor, opus 24 (arr. Simon Parkin) [8]
Julius Klengel: Hymnus, opus 57 [9]

Sheku Kanneh-Mason, Chris Murray [2, 4, 8, 9], Ashok Klouda, Caroline Dearnley, Hannah Roberts [2, 8, 9], Josephine Knight [2], Ben Davies [2, 9], Rowena Calvert, Nicholas Trygstad, Desmond Neysmith, Robert Max [8, 9], Jo Cole [9] (cello), Oliver Heath, Sarah Wolstenholme, Braimah Kanneh-Mason [6, 7], Ayla Sahin [6] (violin), Gary Pomeroy, Alinka Rowe (viola) [6], Toby Hughes (double bass), Plinio Fernandes (guitar) [1], The Heath Quartet [3, 5], London Symphony Orchestra [4], Sir Simon Rattle (conductor) [4]
Recording: Abbey Road Studio 1 (June 28, 2019) and London Symphony Orchestra St. Luke’s (September 3, 7, 2019) – 68’57
2 LPs* or 2CDs Decca 485 0333 (Distributed by Universal Music) – Album in English

Back in May 2018, the conjugal ceremony between the Duke and Duchess of Sussex wouldn’t have been as resplendent without a ceremonious visit by Sheku Kanneh-Mason whose blissful cello backdrop was witnessed by nearly two billion watchful eyes! What a provident launch! Now at age 20, Sheku Kanneh-Mason is a musical phenomenon. With two releases under his belt in 2018, “Elgar” pulls out, yet, another design: the album’s title, though not literal, reaches into other composers’ books whose music reflects a thematic tone of passionate sobriety. M. Kanneh-Mason’s appointments are well-tuned.

Husband/wife duo, Simon Parkin and Hannah Roberts, plays a sizeable role inside “Elgar” via a plenteous supply of arrangements and cello augmentation. M. Parkin’s arrangement of “Nimrod” from Enigma Variations has smooth filtration: the approach is lighter, giving the passage more sensitivity alongside deeper adjuncts. M. Kanneh-Mason’s portamento has a vibrant illustration. On a similar plane, Toby Hughes’ double bass gives beautiful heft inside the Romance in D minor with its sudden breaks of Richard Straussian revelations.

The ultimate show-stopper, the Cello Concerto in E minor, is a piece which Sheku Kanneh-Mason keeps close to his heart. He’s had plenty of time cogitating and digesting this Elgar keepsake into something personal. The plaintive cries within the “Adagio – Moderato” come and go like a rocking boat: we’re fixated upon the Vaughan Williams-esque builds. Pushing open the gates from the introductory “Lento” [movement II], M. Kanneh-Mason cleanly articulates the dizzying perpetuum mobile “Allegro molto” in pristine form. Superb! The verve grandly turns more humbly when entering into the “Adagio” and its dovish personality. Sir Simon Rattle is a great visionary who yields to the cellist at every turn of the page. [It’s important to note that Sheku Kanneh-Mason memorizes all of his music!] The “Allegro” has no wasted moments with slices upon slices of major accentuation. The “Poco più lento’s” compartment drives into the work with deeper continuity while Sheku Kanneh-Mason’s final tension-driven climax doesn’t overblow.

But the beauty of “Elgar’s” overall moody wash also turns to folksongs and extractions therein. The treasured rendition of Scarborough Fair, for example, reveals M. Parkin’s quotient by alternating M. Kanneh-Mason’s cello with Plinio Fernandes’ guitar in an A-B-A format. Simon Parkin takes wide liberties by transposing chords and turning over the main lines to M. Fernandes in minstrel-like detail while M. Kanneh-Mason strings in pizzicato to emphasize the harmonic landscape. Overall, the take is more contemporary, yet the memory has more distance and ambiguity. Fashionable.

Rarely does one encounter the music by Julius Klengel, and in this instance, we experience a beautiful devotional. Hymnus is a little gem, just begging to be heard. Its elegance can also be argued by the composer’s incorporation of 12 cellos, a stylization of Germanic Romantic grandeur. Sheku Kanneh-Mason’s pining lines handle the souvenir with indelible sophistication.

Turning to the earlier Gabriel Fauré passage, Elegie in C minor, this music grizzles in formation which has an inevitable and vicious finality. The terminal clarity, though realistically sad, allows the cellist to penetrate this ominous barrier with magnified conviction.

Ernst Bloch’s two pieces are austere and piercing. The Prélude will fascinate as it has an edge of stark minimalism, stripped down to grave sincerity by The Heath Quartet. Interwoven complexities of private conversations softly remark in the first half, but the overly syrupy (so apropos) attempts to unleash into hopefulness are to no avail…a fruitless struggle has its ultimate grey resignation. Subsequently, the composer’s Prayer gives the Jewish faith immense profundity as the two Kanneh-Mason brothers (esteemed Braimah Kanneh-Mason plays violin) exchange in undiluted vibrato like tears flowing upon Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall...‘gut-wrenching’ and blunt.

If there’s any vestige of lightness, it would turn to Frank Bridge’s diminutive Spring Song. This gorgeous ditty gives pause at England’s pebbly Brighton shore, replete with a sweeping string enclave of care-free simplicity...the moment ends all too soon.

Granted a Florian Leonhard “Antonius and Hieronymus Amati c.1610” cello, Sheku Kanneh-Mason’s artistry brings a richly rapturous detail to these ten œuvres. One will be ‘won over’ by the arresting finesse of this gifted young man.

[*Note: this reviewer was in receipt of the vinyl recording version. On that note, it would behoove listening sans headsets to broaden the experience. The music is magnanimous on its own merit, but the volumetric dimension has slight inconsistencies from LP to LP and from side to side. Imagining the CD option would be a more fortuitous route.]

Sheku Kanneh-Mason Website

Christie Grimstad




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