Sheku Kanneh-Mason


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Cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, just 20 years old when this album was recorded in 2019, can be forgiven for taking a bit of a breather with this, his sophomore release. After all, he had been riding a wave of celebrity nearly unprecedented for a young classical musician: an appearance with his siblings on "Britain's Got Talent" in 2015, the BBC Young Musician award (the first black player so honored) the following year and a performance before an audience of three billion at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in 2018. The Elgar album largely follows the pattern of Kanneh-Mason's debut, Inspiration, which featured a 20th century repertory concerto (there, the Shostakovich Cello Concerto No. 1 in E flat major, Op. 107, here, the Elgar Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85) surrounded by smaller works. Here, the encore-type pieces are laid on a bit thick: most are arranged from their original form. It's true the cello repertory is a bit sparse, but the chamber cello arrangements on this album have a certain sentimental sameness. However, there is no doubting the talents of Kanneh-Mason. He already has a unique dark, warm tone that commands attention on his terms, and his performance in the Elgar Cello Concerto, sensitively backed by the London Symphony under Sir Simon Rattle, is solid. Kanneh-Mason has said that he was inspired to take up the work by Jacqueline du Pré's classic 1960s recording, but he does not mimic her highly emotional approach. Instead, he applies his burnished tone evenly and seeks longer lines, unearthed through repeated performances of the concerto before he recorded it. It's certainly a worthwhile and original reading of the concerto, and it whets the listener's appetite to hear Kanneh-Mason in Beethoven, Dvořák, and the rest of the standard cello repertory that he has easily earned the right to address.

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