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Song (Sheku Kanneh-Mason)

Sheku Kanneh-Mason (cello),Harry Baker (piano) et al (Decca)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Song
Works by JS Bach, Beethoven, Finnis, A Hamilton, Massenet, Messiaen, Stravinsky et al
Sheku Kanneh-Mason (cello),Harry Baker (piano) et al
Decca 485 3169   73:21 mins

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The golden, singing tone of Sheku Kanneh-Mason’s cello hits us the moment this dauntingly eclectic album begins – one, the note writer tells us, in which he is ‘seamlessly shifting from classical and jazz to folk and pop’. Seamlessly? Listeners will surely spot when Bach gives way to the 1950s tearjerker ‘Cry Me a River’, or when the pop song Sheku wrote with singer/musician Zak Abel shatters the spell cast by Edmund Finnis’s subtle Preludes.

Even within individual items, not everything works as it should. Sister Isata’s faceless piano accompaniments don’t lift Beethoven’s Op. 66 Mozart variations, though the siblings are fine in two of Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words. Sheku’s two Bach arrangements for four or five cellos tend toward the glutinous. But inbetween comes total balm: the slow, contemplative ‘Louange à l’Éternité de Jésus’ from Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. In Sheku’s hands the cello’s ascent to its long-lingering final note is deeply affecting and magical, as beautiful in a different way as his opening rendition of the Irish folk song ‘Star of the County Down’.

By my reckoning, though, out of 21 tracks, less than half display Sheku’s gifts at their beguiling best. That is the price paid for muddying the waters with the inappropriate, lining up guest artists not at their best (sorry, soprano Pumeza Matshikiza), and ‘seamlessly shifting’ between genres too many times.

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Geoff Brown