There was an atmosphere of excitement last night in St. Mary’s Church, Tetbury, as the audience packed it for the recital of young pianist Isata Kanneh Mason,[https://www.isatakannehmason.com/#/] making her festival debut. It was a superb recital, remarkable among other things for giving us a chance to hear a piano work “The Easter Sonata” by Fanny Mendelssohn [https://www.britannica.com/biography/Fanny-Mendelssohn] that was until very recently unknown or attributed to her brother Felix.
The musicological researches of Angela Mace Christian established in 2010 that it was indeed composed by his sister. It is a powerful and demanding work, both cerebral and romantic, the first movement featuring counterpoint and some startling sonorities. The second movement is likewise introspective; the third movement offers a light and vivacious theme that is comparable to some of the best work of her brother, juxtaposing it with very different rhetorical and passionate writing. The sonata is a discovery that widens the piano repertoire.
The recital started with Haydn’s Sonata in C major number 60 in C major, Hob.XVI/50, played with sparkle and poise, the scale passages feather-light and seeming to disappear into nothing. The thoughtful, tender second movement, a melody that returns elaborately embellished, was played with grace, and Kanneh-Mason’s performance of the last movement rightly brought out its oddity, and quirkiness. It has a slight unpredictability as Haydn cannot resist playing pranks on us.
The second half of the recital featured Robert Schumann’s Kinderszenen Opus 15, pieces that are not technically demanding but were played with the delicacy and restrained sensitivity that they really need. Then we were treated to a fine performance of Chopin’s B minor Sonata. It was powerful and yet restrained, expressive yet never mawkish, displaying all the nobility and indomitable determination of this music. Chopin wrote that the way a player phrases music is instinctive and reveals whether music is the true native language of their soul. Isata Kanneh-Mason has that special something.
As an encore (and I think the custom of demanding an encore from a performer who has just given an exhausting recital should be classified as a cruel sport) she played Chopin’s D minor Prelude last in the set Opus 28. Sometimes nicknamed “the Storm”, this is the piece of which Huneker wrote that it was “like the vast reverberation of monster waves against the implacable coast of some remote world". Incidentally, Isata Kanneh-Mason is the only pianist I have ever seen play the final note of this piece with the right hand.
Tetbury Music Festival, now celebrating its twentieth anniversary, is a very special occasion, luring the best artists to give outstanding concerts in the middle of the Cotswolds, in the marvellous acoustics and beautiful surroundings of St. Mary’s Church. Other performers this year include the Doric Quartet, cellist Steven Isserlis (the festival’s founding Artistic Director) and on Sunday 1st October the choir Tenebrae.
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