Review of Isata Kanneh-Mason


by Garry Fraser

"I’ve seen some incredible performances on the Perth Concert Hall Steinway, but few as breath-taking as that."

Comparisons with this young lady and the long-established greats of the piano world are no idle fancies. Thanks to her marvellous online recital at this year’s festival, she proved she has all the attributes of a Paul Lewis or a Steven Osborne. There’s flair, mature interpretation, astounding technique and virtuosity and that’s the combination of greatness.

Her programme of Mozart, Chopin, Gershwin and Barber was performed with all these elements standing out but I felt that she really made them pay in the Barber E-flat minor sonata. The work is a strength-sapping tour de force, but as a virtuosic showpiece it’s right up her street. The first movement is marked “energico”, but it needed energy throughout, particularly in the final frenzied fugal movement. I’ve seen some incredible performances on the Perth Concert Hall Steinway, but few as breath-taking as that.

The Mozart K 457 sonata was no less appealing, maybe not as flamboyantly impressive as the Barber but it was important for Isata to prove that classical elegance is just as important as 20th century fireworks. Even then the composer calls for a dynamic approach, especially in the opening movement but she more than compensated that with a slow movement which some might think ponderous but which I thought was perfectly judged.

If these two sonatas topped and tailed the programme, the works in between beg for more than a passing mention. Chopin’s F major Ballade has a dainty first subject before catapulting the listener – and performer – into some keyboard pyrotechnics that call for barrowloads of flair and technique, both of which Isata has in spades.

Three short Gershwin preludes completed the programme, where syncopation was the name of the game. These were a fast-slow-fast trio and while they might have been short in stature, they provided a different sort of challenge for the soloist, but one she shrugged off with consummate ease.

To say this young lady is a revelation in something of an understatement. All the hype surrounding her – and there’s quite a lot – is more than justified.

You can enjoy Isata's Festival concert until 1st June. Book ticket here.

Enjoy this excerpt from Gershwin's Three Preludes.