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Royal Wedding cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason wows crowds in Birmingham - review

By Sarah Cowen-Strong | Birmingham | Music | Published:

What energy, what zest, what power - and that was just the audience.

Sheku Kannah-Mason

It takes a whole chorus of whistles, hand-clapping and cheers to bring an artiste back onto the stage five times, but that’s greeted Sheku Kanneh-Mason’s mesmerising rendition of Elgar’s cello concerto, and he was worth every whoop.

This humble 20-year-old has taken the world by storm since winning the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition in 2016. He has won Classic Brit awards, shot to number one with his debut album, played with orchestras stretching from Seattle to Zurich and, of course, had a major role at last year’s royal wedding.

Of course, his take on our Worcestershire composer’s classic with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra was going to be flawless, but to see his assured execution, his unrestrained emotion and his joy of playing was to hear the piece afresh

One minute his fingers were fluttering over the strings, the next coaxing them into the sort of sound that takes the breath away with its deepness and melancholy. He may have been lost in his playing, but still took time to look up, take in the brilliance of his ensemble and deftly tackle a few stray hairs from his bow.

And I loved the contrast of this young man, clad in white shirt, white trainers and jeans playing a cello made in 1610, amid a sea of other musicians’ black dresses and tails.

He was conducted by CBSO music director Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla, who set the scene for the whole evening with her high-octane baton work on the opening work Lamia by Dorothy Howell.

The rise and fall of this Handsworth composer’s love story was given dynamic precision from all quarters of the orchestra largely due to Mirga’s entrancing and almost balletic method of conducting. I could hardly take my eyes off her as this diminutive figure stretched, leaned and danced to the end.

The vitality continued with Knussen’s The Way to Castle Yonder and Weinberg’s Symphony No 3, Op 45. Before the interval Sheku had played a Weinberg prelude as an encore, which gelled the two halves of the evening together perfectly.

The applause, again was loud, long and well-deserved, and the percussion section, especially, earned their moment in the spotlight.

To see Sheku once more take up position in his, head along to Symphony Hall on September 28, when our Midlands superstar will play the beloved Elgar again.

Sarah Cowen-Strong

By Sarah Cowen-Strong

Journalist with the Express & Star and Shropshire Star

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