Julie Amacher, Classical MPR
Sheku and Isata Kanneh-Mason — MUSE (Decca)
British pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason and her younger brother, Cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, have very different personalities. Perhaps, that is why they get along so well. They both have flourishing solo careers and have performed together for years, carefully developing an incredible sense of timing and trust essential for any musical duo. Their first album as a duo, Muse, features two cello sonatas, one by Samuel Barber and the other by Sergei Rachmaninoff.
“We’ve always wanted to record together,” said Isata about working with her brother. “We’ve recorded pieces that we really love, especially the Rachmaninoff, which is a piece we’ve known since we were very small. It’s really exciting to have this album and we spent a lot of time exploring and enjoying the pieces together.”
How did you discover Barber’s Cello Sonata?
Sheku: “It's not well known at all and we discovered it recently. It was my teacher who introduced us to the piece. We both listened to it, loved it and were struck by how immediate it grips you.”
Is there a section in this sonata that you each love to play?
Isata: “There’s many movements in both of the sonatas. I particularly enjoy playing the second movement of the Rachmaninoff and in that movement, the second subject theme. I think it is really beautiful. I just love all the textures in that movement between the instruments.”
Sheku: “It's music that works so well as a whole. They're all part of an overall shape.”
Isata: “Yes, one section wouldn’t be as good because of the section before.”
What is it about Rachmaninoff's Cello Sonata that makes it one of your favorite pieces?
Sheku: “It's incredibly beautiful and poetic music. It’s a wonderful piece of chamber music in the way the instruments and voices interact. It's just amazingly well crafted. It’s one of the most enjoyable pieces to perform and listen to. It's filled with some incredibly great melodies. I know that it gives the cello a chance to really sing.”
Can you point out your favorite melody?
Sheku: “My favorite? I would say one of my favorite melodies is the second subject of the first movement. It’s played first by the piano and then the cello. It's wonderful. Rachmaninoff's use of falling close intervals, rising large intervals and the painfulness of falling semitones is really powerful. Then you have these hopeful rising intervals later on in the phrase. It’s such a wonderful relief. I think that's one of the most beautiful melodies and phrases.”
To hear the rest of my conversation, download the extended podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.