Summertime [HD]

Isata Kanneh-Mason

(Digital Download - Decca #)

Review by James Manheim

It might seem from a casual perusal of the program here that this release by young sensation Isata Kanneh-Mason consists of two hardly linked segments. The first, featuring Gershwin arrangements by Earl Wild and the fearsomely difficult Piano Sonata in E flat minor, Op. 26, of Samuel Barber, is devoted to technical brilliance, while the second brings Kanneh-Mason closer to roots in African-derived music, closing with works and arrangements by composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, but the two halves connect well. They interpenetrate, for one thing; the Wild pieces announce that the album will be both technically difficult and connected to African American music. In the second part of the program, Kanneh-Mason seems to take a step back from all the brilliance to focus on deeper musical wells. It's an exceptionally thoughtful approach. Kanneh-Mason takes little detours from the theme, and each one contributes something. Listen to the little-known By the Still Waters, Op. 114, of Amy Beach, which is not African-derived at all; it has a marvelous effect on Kanneh-Mason's Schimmel piano. As she winds down from the rigors of the Barber, she offers Percy Grainger's arrangement of The Man I Love, and she pushes the three Gershwin Preludes in a heavily rhythmic direction. The whole thing is a mixed bag, it's true, but it shows the questing mind of a young artist who is hugely talented. Brava!