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Blow the Wind Southerly (arr. Kanneh-Mason) [2.22]
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Nimrod (from Enigma Variations) [4.00]
Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85 [29.10]
Romance, Op. 62 (arr. Parkin) [5.37]
Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)
A Spring Song (from Four Short Pieces for Violin and Piano, H104) (arr. Parkin) [2.16]
Scarborough Fair (arr. Parkin) [3.15]
Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959)
Prélude, B.63 [4.52]
From Jewish Life: Prayer (No.1) (arr. Kanneh-Mason) [4.34]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Élégie in C minor, Op. 24 (arr. Parkin) [7.35]
Julius KLENGEL (1859-1933)
Hymnus for 12 cellos, Op. 57 [5.14]
Sheku Kanneh-Mason (cello)
London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Simon Rattle
rec. 2019, Abbey Road Studios, London
DECCA 4850241 [68.55]

Sheku Kanneh-Mason has caused something of a sensation with this release: the first cellist to have an album in the weekly Top Ten charts. His debut recording was “Inspiration”, also on Decca, at budget price. It was reviewed by Steve Arloff; I have yet to  hear it, but hope to soon.  The “serious piece” on that album was Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto. It was accompanied by pieces such as Casals’ “Song of the birds”, Bob Marley’s “No woman, no cry” and Leonard Cohen’s much covered “Hallelujah”. My eclectic taste allows me to enjoy these pieces as I do the varied works on the present CD, but I do feel that going for, what I call the “Classic FM” market is unnecessary. Kanneh-Mason is a supreme talent and I would have liked another concerto to accompany the majestic Elgar.

There’s every legitimate reason to compare Sheku Kanneh-Mason with Jacqueline Du Pré. He made the recording with the same orchestra, the LSO, and in the same Abbey Road studio. Du Pré recorded it at least four times, all of which I own and love; twice with Sir John Barbirolli (1965, EMI GROC - review; and Testament 1967 review), with husband Daniel Barenboim on Sony (1970 review) and on BBC in 1964 under Sir Malcolm Sargent (review). My first experience was purchasing Robert Cohen’s fine CFP recording from 1980, under Norman Del Mar which I have with a famous “In the South” which was recorded in one take. My LP has been replaced by a CD which also has the “Elegy for Strings”. It is also available with Dvorak’s Cello Concerto under Zdeněk Mácal (review). Then again, I wouldn’t be without Paul Tortelier under Sargent on Testament and Boult on Warner; not forgetting André-Nicolas Navarra with Sir John Barbirolli which, along with Du Pré’s studio recording, features in the “handy”, well re-mastered, 109 CD set “The Complete Warner Recordings”. The latter has just arrived and will, I hope, be the subject of an “overview” at some stage.

Right from the start of this disc, I felt that I was listening to a very special and wonderful performance. One of Sir Simon Rattle’s fine qualities is that of an empathetic accompanist; I recall his extraordinary achievement in 1990, conducting the CBSO, three times over two nights in the Schumann Piano Concerto at The Leeds Piano Competition without any hint of routine. Du Pré’s special quality was her relationship with the other musicians; I so remember that look in her eyes, half happy, half sad. The Romantic element was also prevalent, in fact bubbled over with Sir John Barbirolli; unhappily in Haydn but never in Elgar. This relationship is the backbone of this awesome recording which avoids any egotistical or self-serving schmaltz. Elgar wrote this, his last major orchestral work as a eulogy for the lost generation of the “Great War’. In our present situation, the central themes of the work resonate strongly and if purchasers were enticed by certain lollipops, they have ended with a remarkable performance of a unique masterpiece. The essence of so many performances is the slow movement and the “argument”-like finale. Whilst I find it difficult to play Du Pré/Barbirolli very often, and enjoying her live outing with Barenboim, this Decca performance will now be the one I play first. The pathos and humanity in the final bars is very telling and effective. I should add that the recording is absolutely splendid and resonated out powerfully from my system.

The other works are nice but don’t influence my overall feelings. I didn’t find either “Nimrod” or “Blow the wind southerly” very moving but they’re perfectly pleasant; No, the Concerto is the thing and this CD deserves every success. I think I had better get “Inspiration” and sing along to Bob and Leonard. Meanwhile all lovers of the Elgar should get this recording as soon as possible.

David R Dunsmore

Previous review: Michael Wilkinson

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