The QT

Monday 17 June 2024

Review: Royal Northern Sinfonia with Isata Kanneh-Mason

Royal Northern Sinfonia welcomed pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason for a fabulous concert at The Glasshouse on February 16. Ruth Robson was there for The QT
Piano soloist Isata Kanneh-Mason. Credit: David Venni

Friday night’s Royal Northern Sinfonia concert with guest soloist Isata Kanneh-Mason was a spectacular evening of music.

The eldest of the famous musical Kanneh-Mason siblings from Nottingham delighted the audience with a performance of Clara Wieck Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor, a work included on Isata’s chart topping album Romance: The Piano Music of Clara Schumann, which was released in 2019. 

The evening started with music by Clara’s husband, Robert Schumann, his Symphony in G minor ‘Zwickau’ in two movements, named after his German home town.

The Glasshouse’s resident orchestra was in superb form, giving an animated rendition of what is one of Robert Schumann’s earliest orchestral works.

The composer had studied the work of Beethoven, whose influence can be heard.

Robert had intended to compose the piece as a complete symphony but put the two completed movements to one side as his career developed.

His early symphony was a wonderful prelude to his more mature symphonic writing and on Friday it served as a prelude to the performance of his wife’s Piano Concerto and, after the interval, to what is widely regarded as the first of Beethoven’s mature symphonic works, his Symphony No 3, the ‘Eroica’. 

The Glasshouse was a special place to be on Friday night

After the ‘Zwickau’ Symphony Isata Kanneh-Mason joined the black-clad Royal Northern Sinfonia musicians on stage.

Wearing a stunning red dress, the 27-year-old brought not only her pyrotechnic piano playing but a touch of glamour.

Clara composed her Piano Concerto in A minor when aged 14 to 16 and gave its first performance in 1835. This was in Leipzig with the composer Felix Mendelssohn conducting.  

The combination of Isata’s flawless musicianship and the finesse of the orchestra under principal conductor Dinas Sousa was a delight.

The concerto goes against some of the norms of early 19th Century classical music, with unusual modulations and scoring.

The second movement is written as a Romance and as the pianist is in the midst of a conventional solo section, a single cello joins in.

Royal Northern Sinfonia’s principal cellist, Eddie Pogossian, played this exquisitely and deservedly was invited to take a bow alongside Isata during the applause.

Dinis Sousa conducting Royal Northern Sinfonia

It was thunderous, and Isata duly performed a thunderous encore, Chopin’s Prelude No. 24 in D minor, Opus 28, nicknamed The Storm.  

The concert was promoted using the title ‘Eroica’, the name Beethoven gave to his third symphony, and the orchestra’s performance certainly lived up to the name.

The piece marks a transition to Beethoven’s larger scale symphonic writing.

As a chamber orchestra Royal Northern Sinfonia has fewer musicians than a symphony orchestra, allowing a lightness of touch that big orchestras can’t always achieve – yet in the parts of a score when a rich, full sound is required, it always delivers.

The ‘Eroica’ Symphony demands both, which the orchestra achieved to perfection, all sections demonstrating superb ensemble playing.

Of particular note were the french horns in the famous trio section of the third movement – but all the evening’s performers were truly heroic.

Ruth Robson

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