By Mary Nemet | From the January-February 2024 issue of Strings Magazine
Two new collections of sheet music from Sheku Kanneh-Mason highlight some of the cellist’s favorite tunes. The Sheku Kanneh-Mason Cello Collection includes music for solo cello and cello with piano accompaniment, while Song contains arrangements from his third album for solo, duet, and trio cellos, as well as cello and piano.
The collection of 14 pieces brought together by acclaimed young British cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason in The Sheku Kanneh-Mason Cello Collection showcases his favorite tunes. Some, like Fauré’s plaintive Après un Rêve and Rachmaninoff’s poetic Élégie, are relaxed and intimate; others, such as his own Theme and Variations have wit and sparkle, with fast and furious virtuoso sections. All of them reflect his eclectic taste.
Kanneh-Mason invites cellists on an enchanting tour with treasures from all eras, beginning with Simon Parkin’s arrangement of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. He suggests looking up the words of this song to highlight different moods, color, and dynamics when shaping the phrases. Next comes Kanneh-Mason’s arrangement of “Blow the Wind Southerly,” a traditional song, inspired by contralto Kathleen Ferrier’s wonderful recording, followed by Song of the Birds, made famous by Pablo Casals. Kanneh-Mason explains that Casals is one of his all-time favorite cellists and an ongoing inspiration. An original piece, Theme and Variations, inspired by his Welsh heritage, is a challenging exercise in various techniques like staccato, octaves, pizzicato, and harmonics.
Lastly, Kanneh-Mason invites cellists to sample two of his improvised cadenzas to Haydn’s first cello concerto and encourages them to write their own. His brief messages at the start of each piece in this delightful collection suggest ways to approach their varied moods and emotions. Eight of the 14 pieces are accompanied, while his bowings and fingerings are practical and helpful.
Song, the collection of ten songs (five with piano accompaniment) whose title referring to the cello’s lyrical singing tone, is Sheku Kanneh-Mason’s personal collection of tunes ranging from two of Mendelssohn’s Song without Words and 12 Variations on The Magic Flute by Beethoven to Stravinsky’s Chanson Russe and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Deep River. Myfanwy by Joseph Parry for cello trio is one of Kanneh-Mason’s favorites, taking him back to time with his Welsh grandma and hearing Welsh male voice choirs.
Six of these songs are skillfully arranged and sensitively edited by Kanneh-Mason, while Preludes, with its five movements in variation form, is an original work by Edmund Finnis. These captivating solo preludes are, in Kanneh-Mason’s words, “each distinctive in character and perfectly written for the cello.” The famous Marlene Dietrich song “Falling in Love Again” is adeptly arranged for cello duet by Simon Parkin.
Faber Music’s publication is well set out on the page and easy to read, while Kanneh-Mason’s fingerings and bowing suggestions assist in a smooth and expressive interpretation. This beautiful collection of cello songs is recorded by Kanneh-Mason for Decca.