MCCS – Isata Kanneh-Mason

Monday 10th October 2022

As a pianist, the highlight of this year’s Subscription Concert Series for me was always going to be the performance of the acclaimed pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason. Her time is equally spent as a Chamber musician and a soloist, which means she is aware when she needs to drive the music and when to allow the music to flow naturally from her fingers. I would like to thank her for thinking so carefully of her audience. The programme was a perfect balance of repertoire suitable for pupils and the older members in the audience, mixed with some stunning and inspiring more virtuosic repertoire.

Mozart’s variations on ‘Ah vous dirai-je’ were a refreshing start to the programme. For our students this is a perfect piece to demonstrate how a composer of such quality can eek out the most extraordinary subtleties and playfulness from such a banal and well-known theme. Isata allowed her sparkling fingerwork to stroke the melodic contours with ease. Fanny Mendelssohn’s ‘Easter Sonata’ was the first of two pieces representing female composers. This is a piece which moves from the Classical simplicity of the 1st movement to the violent and technically difficult last movement, requiring enormous energy. The score was lost for over a century and when found was attributed to her brother, Robert, as it was too ‘masculine’ for a young lady to have written. Isata showed that the energy and aggression needed for this work is also more than possible by a female pianist!
‘Children’s Corner’ will always remain as one of Debussy’s most well-loved collections. It is full of charm and has been tackled by many an amateur pianist. Isata approached the six short pieces with a glint in her eye! The individual characteristics were impressively clear, from the delicacy of the serenade and the humour of the elephant’s lullaby, to the more risqué ragtime touch in the ‘Golliwog’s Cake-walk’.

After the interval we were immediately gripped by the blend of virtuosity and lyricism displayed with such consummate ease in Clare Schumann’s exciting ‘Scherzo no 2 in C Minor’. Clara was as gifted as her husband in writing glorious Romantic melodies as shown in her beautiful vocal collections. These singable melodies appear in all her works and here were displayed beautifully with a liquid finger legato and cantabile tone.
Chopin’s ‘Ballade No 2 in F Major’ is not his greatest or most substantial Ballade, but it still engages the audience with its swings between emotional extremes. To create the passion required on our warm and lyrical Steinway is hard work but certainly not unsurmountable for Isata, who filled the hall with bright and vivid sounds.

The concert came to a close with another much-loved and well-known collection – Robert Schumann’s ‘Kinderszenen’. The colours that she managed to draw out of the piano were simply inspiring – from suave elegance to endearing witticism and from ominous darkness to wistful dreaming.

A thoroughly fulfilling evening was had by all. As the nights draw in, this was a heart-warming and engaging performance from a pianist who allows the music to speak. Hoorah for that!

Clare Toomer
Head of Keyboard

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