Isata Kanneh-Mason Brighton Dome, 25 May 2021

Isata Kanneh-Mason plays with poise, panache and maturity. She begins each piece with a moment’s silence and stillness – and then does the same between movements – which presumably allows her to focus and reset. It also has the effect of making the audience, as one, hold its breath and concentrate. What then follows are performances of technical excellence and intelligence. Hand movements are fluidly eloquent but she’s a visually unshowy (glitzy silver dress notwithstanding) performer. The magic is all in the sound.

Her sixty minute recital for the Brighton Festival was bookended by two very different, substantial sonatas with shorter pieces between. And in the course of that she managed to traverse three centuries and two continents.

Isata Kanneh-Mason’s account of Mozart K457, with its three contrasting movements was warmly compelling, especially in the Allegro assai in which she really made the most of the evocative pauses.

Then came Chopin (Ballade No 2 in F Major Op 38) whose impassioned A minor central section may, just possibly, be inspired by Polish national suffering in the late 1830s when it was written. Well, programmatic or not, it revealed plenty of drama in Kanneh-Mason’s hands.

Next she hopped across the Atlantic and moved on to three Gershwin preludes, all connotative of Rhapsody in Blue by which time I found myself wondering if there’s anything this talented young woman can’t do. She strode, tiptoed and danced through the jazzy syncopation with such sensitivity that, for a few moments we were effortlessly spirited off to a completely different world.

Still in the US, the concert ended with Samuel Barber’s 1950 piano sonata Op 36 which was new to me. I liked the way Kanneh-Mason played the charming second movement – allegro vivace e leggiero – which has the feel of Saint-Saens’s Aquarium about it and was delivered here with ethereal lightness of touch. She played the adagio with lots of weight on the grandiloquent left hand chords and then, with a well managed diminuendo, let it die away echoing like Holst’s Neptune.

The challenging fugue which completes the Barber sonata was played at terrifying speed which turned it into a real show piece – a resounding finale to a splendid recital.

Susan Elkin

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