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Isata Kanneh-Mason’s Solo Recital: Patient, Bold, Spectacular

Pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason performing at Jordan Hall on Oct. 13.
Pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason performing at Jordan Hall on Oct. 13. By Courtesy of Robert Torres
By John M. Weaver, Contributing Writer

Pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason took the stage on Oct. 13 at Jordan Hall of the New England Conservatory of Music in a sparkling red dress that perfectly matched the venue’s Baroque style. Her performance included four classical compositions spanning the works of Joseph Haydn, Fanny Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann, and Frederic Chopin; she also performed Chopin’s “Prelude No. 24” as her encore piece. Throughout her performance, Kanneh-Mason demonstrated incredible skill in a performance that flawlessly combined technicality with artistry while drawing out as much emotion as possible through the physicality of her recital.

Opening with Haydn’s “Piano Sonata No. 60 in C Major, Hob. XVI/50,” Kanneh-Mason immediately put her technical skill on full display with a staccato style that emphasized every note, carved out perfectly in time. Despite the uneven, syncopated rhythmic structure of the piece, Kanneh-Mason executed it with surgical precision, taking advantage of the confident accents and dynamics that helped to maintain a steady tempo even in the face of wildly lurching phrases. Volume and style were never at odds, as she demonstrated immense musical dexterity by maintaining both power and precision even in the quietest and loudest dynamics.

The second movement of Fanny Mendelssohn’s “Easter Sonata” revealed that Kanneh-Mason was equally talented when it came to lyrical pieces. Her rendition was characterized by patience above all else, a virtue often lost in the pressure of a performance. The piano took on the emotive quality of a singer as she gave each note the time and space it needed to fill the entire concert hall and reach the audience in its fullest beauty. Dynamics were also handled with incredible dexterity, slowly building up climactic crescendos over the course of several phrases, only to slash the volume to a near-whisper with a single strike of the keys. The measured and steady pacing of her lyrical performance allowed the audience to bask freely in the emotion and beauty of her work.

The true extent of Kanneh-Mason’s talent was revealed in the finale with her rendition of Chopin’s “Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58.” With this piece, Kanneh-Mason combined her lyrical and technical skill together to provide the audience with a strikingly emotive and clean performance. Her left hand kept time perfectly with a steady bass part that danced under the slow, stunning melody played in the higher register with her right hand. Neither the precision nor the emotive quality of her performance suffered even when the two hands were challenged at once, combining to form a memorable and impressive finale.

The entire recital was made all the more engaging through Isata Kanneh-Mason’s physical performance. The audience easily felt the immense beauty and emotion of her work, as she danced along with every note. She accomplished this through different parts of her body, such as her shoulders shaking as she struck the keys with the power of a hammer, or her head thrusting back as she glided through gentle arpeggios. Every movement — no matter how slight — was accentuated by the scintillating sequins of her dress, lending her music a distinct visual identity. Moreover, fast, technical pieces featured dramatic flashes of light as Kanneh-Mason matched the pace and intensity of the piece, while slower, more lyrical pieces boasted smooth motions accompanied by gradual shifts of the reflections given off by her dress.

Overall, Isata Kanneh-Mason delivered a stellar performance that was elevated by her immense talent and enhanced by her meticulous attention to detail. With her attire and program perfectly constructed to deliver a superb recital befitting the lovely venue, Kanneh-Mason’s skill and care were surely enough to guarantee a memorable night of music for the audience.

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