By Greg Cahill | From the March-April 2022 issue of Strings magazine
Throughout this dramatic program of Barber and Rachmaninoff cello sonatas, these two players exhibit an almost telepathic unity. Perhaps that’s to be expected—you could say there is music in their blood. This brother-and-sister duo—cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason and pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason—spent considerable time honing their sound at home, in rehearsal, onstage, and in the recording studio. Muse is their recording debut as a duo. They had toured extensively in 2019 to perfect this program, but plans to record were dashed temporarily when the pandemic lockdown went into effect. So, the pair took to the internet, performing these works online for family and friends and eventually at the BBC Proms.
The program is bookended by Barber’s passionate Cello Sonata, Op. 6, and the Cello Sonata, Op. 19, by Rachmaninoff. In between, the siblings perform seven short, beautiful tunes by those same composers: the four Barber songs include three written during his teen years and influenced by his love of nature, while the three brief Rachmaninoff works include the title track and the lovely How Fair This Spot. The songs offer a respite from the emotional intensity of the sonatas and give cellist Sheku a chance to shine as his instrument wordlessly sings the melodies. The recording quality and acoustics are superb: The impeccable performances were recorded at the award-winning Saffron Walden Concert Hall on the campus of a school in Essex, England.