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Muse (Sheku & Isata Kanneh-Mason)

Sheku Kanneh-Mason (cello), Isata Kanneh-Mason (piano) (Decca)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Barber: Cello Sonata; There’s Nae Lark; A Slumber Song of the Madonna; With rue my heart is laden; Sure on this shining night; Rachmaninov: It cannot be!; How fair this spot; The Muse; Cello Sonata
Sheku Kanneh-Mason (cello), Isata Kanneh-Mason (piano)
Decca 485 1630   67:07 mins


Barber’s Cello Sonata may be well represented on disc, but somewhat surprisingly doesn’t feature all that much in recitals. However, that might be about to change thanks to the persuasive advocacy of Sheku and Isata Kanneh-Mason. This hugely talented duo has really taken to the work in a big way and they have performed it many times in recent years. Their strong identification with the Sonata is immediately evident in this recording. They bring a remarkable unanimity of ensemble to the dialogue and make light work of some rhythmically complex passages. But they also demonstrate a convincing mastery of the Sonata’s continually fluctuating tempos and the wide gamut of emotions that encompass its three movements.

The Kanneh-Masons supplement the Sonata with sensitive transcriptions for cello and piano of four of Barber’s songs. It’s a lovely idea in principle, but in practice, the generally contemplative nature of the writing and the slow tempos of each song begins to sound monotonous if listened to as a complete sequence. A similar problem arises with the three slow Rachmaninov song transcriptions that follow, though I should add that the performance of the more extended ‘Muse’ is quite exquisite.

I was less convinced by their Rachmaninov Sonata. On the plus side, I applaud their generally straightforward approach to the music and their reluctance to succumb to too much self-indulgence in shaping the composer’s gorgeous melodies. But elsewhere, the performance doesn’t always engage me partly because Sheku Kanneh-Mason’s tonal palette seems more limited and requires a greater subtlety of nuance in certain passages.


Erik Levi