ELGAR Cello Concerto (Sheku Kanneh-Mason)

Record and Artist Details

Genre:

Orchestral

Label: Decca

Media Format: CD or Download

Mastering:

DDD

Catalogue Number: 485 0241

485 0241. ELGAR Cello Concerto (Sheku Kanneh-Mason)

Tracks:

Composition Artist Credit
Variations on an Original Theme, 'Enigma' Hannah Roberts
Ashok Klouda
Josephine Knight
Ben Davies
Sheku Kanneh-Mason
Caroline Dearnley
Blow the wind southerly Sheku Kanneh-Mason
Concerto for Cello and Orchestra Sheku Kanneh-Mason
London Symphony Orchestra
Simon Rattle
(4) Short Pieces Oliver Heath
Sara Wolstenholme
Sheku Kanneh-Mason
Heath Quartet
Gary Pomeroy
Chris Murray
Romance Heath Quartet
Toby Hughes
Chris Murray
Sara Wolstenholme
Gary Pomeroy
Oliver Heath
Sheku Kanneh-Mason

What is it with Elgar and young musicians? The Violin Concerto found Yehudi Menuhin and Nigel Kennedy caught in the throes of infatuation, while with Jacqueline du Pré and now Sheku Kanneh-Mason (winner of the 2016 BBC Young Musician competition) it was the Cello Concerto. Kanneh-Mason’s recording shines resplendent even against a backdrop of celebrity rivals, much abetted by Simon Rattle’s astutely stated LSO accompaniment, where every interlacing detail (especially among the woodwinds) is perfectly focused and the surging bass lines soar.

The Concerto’s opening immediately commands attention, and when Kanneh-Mason climbs the scale that peaks with Elgar’s first big tutti, his crying projection truly tugs at the heart-strings. The Scherzo suggests playful badinage, the Adagio a private prayer for solace rather than a candid confession (and how beautiful the hushed bars near its close); and when, in the finale, at the più lento section, Elgar’s meaningfully modulating themes suggest a sequence of unanswerable questions, there’s never a hint of overstatement.

Rattle’s previous recording with Sol Gabetta and the Berlin Philharmonic (on CD and DVD, the former with Martin≤’s First Concerto under Krzysztof Urbański, the latter with orchestral works including The Rite of Spring) is also very fine, as is Gabetta’s previous recording under Mario Venzago. When writing about Rattle and Gabetta I noted the conductor’s responsiveness, ‘the way he moulds phrases, nudges details to the fore, bends the line [and] holds tight to a salient accompanying detail (especially along the lower end of the spectrum)’. I’d add now that his mastery of Elgar’s idiom and ear for detail remind me of Adrian Boult at his most persuasive. And while the LSO’s leaner tonal properties are quite different to the gleaming profile of the BPO, Decca’s big, closely balanced recording makes for an equally impressive listening experience. As to comparing Kanneh-Mason with Gabetta, I sense marginally greater inwardness on Sheku’s part, especially in the first and fourth movements. It really is a remarkable performance, one that has already given me enormous pleasure.

The ensemble makeweights (where Kanneh-Mason serves as a first among equals) are what we in the radio business would call ‘fillers’, meaning so many pauses for breath between larger works. Sheku has tweeted a video of himself playing Simon Parkin’s cello ensemble arrangement of ‘Nimrod’ and while his appreciation of the ‘hunter’ as chamber music is obvious, both from what he says and how he plays, I wasn’t quite so keen. Something of the music’s essential nobility is lost and intimacy is no compensation. On the other hand, Bloch’s Prélude and ‘Prayer’ (From Jewish Life, arranged by Sheku himself) relate a genuine sense of cantorial intensity and the programme’s unaccompanied prelude, ‘Blow the wind southerly’ (again arranged by Sheku), is touching in its warmth and simplicity. Other pieces arranged for ensemble are by Elgar, Bridge, Klengel and Fauré, as well as ‘Scarborough Fair’. Crusty old curmudgeon that I am, I’d far rather have had the Walton or Finzi Concertos than any of it (Gabetta and Venzago also couple the Concerto with a sequence of mostly miniatures), but there’s little doubt that in terms of the Elgar Concerto, the digitally recorded ranks are significantly enriched: as well as Gabetta, such fine cellists as Natalie Clein (EMI, A/07), Alisa Weilerstein (Decca, 2/13) and Steven Isserlis (Hyperion, 3/16) now have a credible additional rival.

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