Siblings Isata and Sheku Kanneh-Mason announce first recorded duo collaboration


By Ellie Palmer

03 September 2021

'Muse' will be released on Decca Classics on 5 November

Isata Kanneh-Mason (Pianist 110 cover star) and her cellist brother, Sheku, have announced their first ever recorded collaboration.

Muse will feature a diverse selection of music for piano and cello composed by Samuel Barber and Sergei Rachmaninov. As the first disc recorded with Sheku and Isata alone, it utilises the siblings’ musicality and refined skill from years of playing and performing together. 

Both the Rachmaninov and Barber cello sonatas found a natural place in Sheku and Isata’s programme before COVID-19 lockdowns halted the world. In the months leading up to the standstill, they found shared enthusiasm along with a familiar comfort in playing the pieces together.

 

'Muse' will be released on Decca Classics on 5 November

 

Considering this, they asked themselves an important question… can a live concert be replicated, offstage? The siblings aspired to share the process of exploration and discovery behind each piece and to demonstrate where they stood in their realisation of them. Capturing this energy for the recording of Muse, when all concerts were paused worldwide, provides a snapshot of a unique period of stretched and unexpected time together. Sheku and Isata embrace a musical relationship that holds no rivalry; its security encourages risks with their interpretation of the composers’ broad works and the result is magical.

Barber’s Cello Sonata from the 1930’s is an early work and not one that is well known. The duo revelled in the discovery of its intricacies and quickly became fond of the Barber pieces throughout the process. Sheku and Isata carefully describe these as shamelessly dramatic, with a sense of innocent impatience. A short sonata that boasts youthful extremity, it clearly resonated perfectly for the pair. In juxtaposition to the Rachmaninov, the intentional drama is not shy, and neither is their fine execution of this powerful sonata.

Rachmaninov’s much-loved sonata is described by the composer as giving equal footing to the piano and cello. Having grown up around the popular 2nd Piano Concerto, the pair explore the detail of each of these works by refining every subtle nuance found within. The result is a multi-dimensional work of art that is considered a joy to play for both instruments. Although Rachmaninov infrequently strayed into chamber music, this selection of masterpieces finds Sheku imitating a great, rich Russian voice on his instrument. In this way, an array of textures is brought out in Rachmaninov’s work that would not be traditionally assumed.

Main image: Sheku (left) with sister Isata. ©James Hole