Award-winning cellist Sheku made history when his debut album, ‘Inspiration’, reached #11 in the Official UK Album Charts, and he was one of 2018’s biggest breakthrough artists across any genre. He has garnered huge critical acclaim for his performances with The Times describing him as “the world’s new favourite cellist.” Now he is back with Elgar, a new album of works anchored around Elgar’s Cello Concerto – arguably the best-known work in the classical canon written for solo cello, which saw the 100th anniversary of its first performance this year. Armed with the inspiration of the 1965 recording by his heroine Jacqueline du Pré, Sheku recorded the concerto at the world-famous Abbey Road Studios in an illustrious collaboration withRead more Sir Simon Rattle and The London Symphony Orchestra. Sheku’s innate artistry and thoughtful approach to performing this iconic work are immortalised in this new recording, where nine exquisite pieces, some popular and some less well-known, which provide a musical context to the Cello Concerto. He explains: “All the pieces are connected, either exercising similar emotions to the Cello Concerto, or written around the same time.” They include a new arrangement of Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’, Klengel’s ‘Hymnus’ which was composed for 12 cellos, and Sheku’s own arrangement of beloved folk tune ‘Blow the Wind Southerly.’ Sheku has been on a whirlwind adventure since winning BBC Young Musician 2016 – performing at TRH the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s wedding, playing at the BAFTAs, partnering with design icon Paul Smith, and winning two Classical BRIT Awards. He is currently an undergraduate student at the Royal Academy of Music.
To tackle the Elgar Cello Concertp brings immediate comparison with Jacqueline Du Pré’s classic recording with John Barbirolli. Despite his admiration for Du Pré, Kanneh-Mason does not attempt a copy. His account is more restrained, technically secure and with a lovely rich tone. He and Rattle attempt an almost symphonic approach, with a strong sense of structure, to produce a genuinely interesting performance, rich in detail. But I was not as moved as by others: some passages were a little polite, some of the poetry a little too generalised. Isserlis remains my first choice, but I am glad to make the acquaintance of this new one. Make no mistake: this is a fine performance in the making by a musician of real substance. It will be interesting to hear how his insights develop over the years.
Just as Du Pré looms over memories of the Cello Concerto, so one cannot listen to ‘Blow the Wind Southerly’ without hearing Kathleen Ferrier. Kanneh-Mason approaches it as a warm, dignified piece, eloquent in restraint, to form a natural prelude to the Elgar to follow. I’m not sure ‘Nimrod’ needed to make an appearance, but it is neatly done, and the Romance has an Elgarian spirit, with a moving dignity. This piece could be an excuse for self-indulgence, but there is a classical restraint.
It is good to hear Bridge rather than a more ‘marketable’ composer. It really is a ‘short piece’ with a jolly opening and instant charm. It needs a certain lightness of touch as the melody develops – this performance is delightful throughout, and a real highlight of the disc.
Kanneh-Mason captures the poetry and something of the melancholy of Bloch, especially in the Prélude, which has an intense seriousness, sensitive to subtle shifts in mood. The arrangement of From Jewish Life: Prayer (No.1) has similar qualities – both technically secure and attentive to very subtle changes in mood and poetry.
Fauré was a great miniaturist and this performance of Élégie reveals those qualities of understated emotion and the ability to hold a long-breathed phrase without lapsing into the sentimental or indulgent. The result is very touching.
Outside cello circles, Julius Klengel is not well-known, despite a large output including four concertos for cello and two for double cello. His family was musical – his brother, Paul, was arguably even more versatile, and a fine composer. Julius joined the Leipzig Gewandhaus at 15, remaining for over 50 years (he became principal cellist at 22). His Hymnus has been several times recorded, notably by the Cellists of the Berlin Phiharmonic and by Steven Isserlis and the Cello Classics Ensemble (Cello Classics CC1024). As the name implies, this is a serious, even melancholic piece, with a very atmospheric opening – almost a breaking dawn – leading to an expressive but dignified main theme, lovingly captured here.
– MusicWeb International (Michael Wilkinson) Read less
Works on This Recording
Blow the wind southerlyby Traditional Performer:
Sheku Kanneh-Mason (Cello)
Written: England Notes: Arr. Kanneh-Mason for Solo Cello