REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Jeneba Kanneh-Mason, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, September 30

Jeneba Kanneh-Mason: “May take pride from her flying of the family flag”. Picture: John Davis

THERE are seven siblings in the prodigious Kanneh-Mason family, all of them musicians. I have heard only three of them, so I shall resist the temptation to make comparisons. But pianist Jeneba is No. 3 in the line-up and she is right up there.

A mixed bag that began with Bach and progressed through to Liszt at his most demanding opened the British Music Society of York’s 101st season.

She made a confident start in Bach’s C sharp major Prelude & Fugue, inner voices nicely differentiated, and changed mood immediately for Debussy’s three Estampes, written nearly two centuries later. There was graduated distancing of the magical bells in ‘Pagodes’, an insistent strum of habanera amid the fireworks in Granada, and very persistent, immaculately steady rain as backdrop to the child’s reverie.

Six years earlier than the Debussy, in 1897, Scriabin completed his Second Piano Sonata, in G sharp minor, subtitled ‘Sonate-fantasie’. It is a dark work, which was reflected in Kanneh-Mason’s strong left hand.

She delivered a grand, chorale-like sweep in the outer edges of the Andante, with remarkable variation in touch in between. The busy inner figurations of the presto held no terrors for her as she sustained a brilliantly menacing evocation of stormy seas.

She selected three from the 24 Negro Melodies composed in 1905 by the London-born Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, whose father hailed from Sierra Leone. For decades he was known almost solely by The Song Of Hiawatha, but at long last his other music (where is Hiawatha now?) is beginning to see the light of day again, not least through the ardent championship of the Kanneh-Mason family.

A defiant minor-key chorale, trombone-like, defined ‘At the Dawn of Day’ and there was more than a touch of plantation blues about ‘The Stones Are Very Hard’. Chopinesque harmonies infused the stately ‘Take Nabandji’. These were fleeting impressions only. Similarly understated was his Second Impromptu in B minor, inflected with sadness.

There was nothing in the least diffident, however, about her Liszt. The beautiful restraint of the introduction to Vallée d’Obermann only served to accentuate the orchestral tone she poured into its second half. A youthful boldness in her strongly-etched melody lines – allied, it almost goes without saying, to a formidable technique – made this an unalloyed joy.

If there was a touch too much rubato in the Second Hungarian Rhapsody, it certainly captured the spirit of the dance it enshrines. Jeneba may take pride from her flying of the family flag.

Review by Martin Dreyer