Just got back from a piano recital by Isata Kanneh-Mason at the Perelman Theater. Good but not great, is my verdict.
The printed program had Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No 1 following Mozart’s Piano Sonata K 457, and Chopin’s Ballade Op 38 concluding the program.
That made sense in one way in that both the sonatas were in minor keys and began with “Mannheim Rockets”, but it meant ending the concert with a Chopin piece, which, lovely as it is, is not the kind of music that gets an audience on its feet. Happily, before the concert began Miles Cohen announced that the Beethoven and Chopin pieces would be switched. That made a lot more sense, as the Beethoven sonata ends with a Prestissimo movement.
I had never heard the soloist before, but after today I sincerely hope I hear her a lot more often, even though I had some problems with her playing.
The first half of the program was terrific. Following the Mozart and Chopin (which she played brilliantly) was a Chaconne by Sofia Gubaidulina. This was new to me, but it made quite a good impression and I’ll probably look to see if there is a recording available.
After the intermission the program didn’t make as good an impression. It began with a Philadelphia premiere, Eleanor Alberga’s Cwicseolfor (“Quicksilver”). That made no impression on me. Following that were several Études-Tableaux by Rachmaninov—not one of my favorite composers (even though he was one of Sondheim’s). These were difficult pieces and Kanneh-Mason played them well.
Finally came the Beethoven. The first problem was that Kanneh-Mason apparently doesn’t believe in repeats. While I’m not a purist, I believe that most of the time if Beethoven indicated a repeat it should be honored; it’s not just for the repetition of the musical material but the repetition is part of the architecture and omitting it is like seeing a Greek temple with one of its columns missing. Since Kanneh-Mason does not seem to understand the importance of repeats, I blame her teachers. I can only hope she eventually learns the error of her ways.
The other problem was that she played the Prestissimo final movement more like an Allegro molto. That, along with her failure to honor the repeats, left me a bit grouchy.
But apparently only me; the audience gave her a warm and exuberant ovation. And she played a lively Gershwin Prelude for an encore. All in all a good concert.
Now let me say a word or two about the audience. Isata Kanneh-Mason is Black, as you will have noticed from her photo, and by my informal estimation, between five and ten percent of the audience was also Black. This compares with a typical one or two percent for most classical music concerts in Philadelphia (again by my informal estimation).
No, I don’t really have a problem with that, but I remember when my friend Frank Scott was still alive and we went to an André Watts recital where again the percentage of Black patrons was noticeably higher than usual. Frank got all bent out of shape; he felt that the racial makeup of the artists shouldn’t impact the racial makeup of the audience. And just so you know, Frank was Black himself.
And while I’m talking about the audience, I’ll just mention that the white woman sitting on my right seemed to be there simply to read the program rather than listen to the music. Yes, that’s a pet peeve of mine.
I was sitting in the area directly above the stage, so I had a full view of the audience, and in the second row there were two white people who didn’t think the mask mandate applied to them (see photo below taken during intermission). He kept moving his mask below his nose, and for most of the concert she had her mask down to her chin while holding her program up next to her head, presumably to keep the cooties from flying to the people sitting next to her.
I hate wearing a mask as much as anyone, but I do it.