The Kanneh-Mason Family review – varied programme gives each sibling a chance to shine

Barbican, London
Seven musical marvels delivered a warm informal show, attended both in person and virtually, in which cellist Sheku and pianist Isata provided particular highlights

At a time when most of us are spending more evenings in our living rooms than we’d ideally choose, here was the chance to pretend we were in someone else’s. Often billed as “Britain’s most musical family”, the Kanneh-Masons – seven siblings who range in age from pianist Isata, 24, down to cellist Mariatu, 11 – have been streaming performances from their Nottingham home during lockdown; here, in their first London concert as a family, they made those of us in the Barbican auditorium feel like welcome house guests.

The venue must take some credit for creating that atmosphere, even though most of its audience were at home watching the livestream and the rest were safely spread out around a five-sixths empty hall. The stage was cosily lit, with two squishy sofas for the performers to relax into when someone else was playing. Ambient noise of traffic hum and birdsong played as we took our seats, covering up the awkward silence of a too-large room containing too few people, and Josie d’Arby compered with buoyant informality.

A mixed-bag programme gave everyone a chance to chip in. It began with the single-movement Piano Trio No. 1 by Shostakovich, written when the composer was younger than all but two of the Kanneh-Masons, and played with a balance of dreaminess and driving energy by Isata, violinist Braimah and cellist Sheku. It ended with three numbers for the whole team: an arrangement of Eric Whitacre’s sweet but slender Seal Lullaby, a medley from Fiddler on the Roof and their own take on Bob Marley’s Redemption Song, played with obvious love.

the Kanneh-Masons.
At home in the Barbican … the Kanneh-Masons. Photograph: Mark Allan

In between came two Schubert piano impromptus for Konya and Jeneba, and the finale of a Mozart trio for the three youngest. Isata was stylish and snappy in Gershwin’s Three Preludes. In ensembles, Braimah’s sweet violin tone couldn’t quite match the heft or expressive range of Sheku’s cello, but it came into its own in his solo performance of Tchaikovsky’s Mélodie, Isata at the piano.

The highlights involved one or both of Sheku and Isata. Their impassioned performance of the third movement of Barber’s Sonata, the cello theme constantly striving and falling back again, made one long to hear them play the whole thing.


Erica Jeal

The GuardianTramp

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