Philharmonia Sessions: Sheku performs Saint-Saëns
Watching Sheku Kanneh-Mason play the cello is an exhilarating sight – the BBC Young Musician Award winner has made waves in the classical music community since his appearance at Prince Harry’s wedding. In the Philharmonia Orchestra’s grand return after a four-month pause, Kanneh-Mason beautifully performs Saint-Saëns’ First Cello Concerto in the recently refurbished Battersea Arts Centre. The strings section follow with Vaughan Williams’s delightful Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis to complete the ensemble’s first instalment of their new Summer Series.
Under the ambience of the BAC’s scorched brick walls, the concert opens with the 21-year-old cellist, whose style is as distinctive as it is utterly magnificent. Without as much as a glance at sheet music – which is in fact completely absent from his line of sight – Kanneh-Mason plays through nearly 22 minutes of Saint-Saëns entirely from memory. He tackles the piece with poise and imagination: intense facial expressions, sharp intakes of breath on certain notes and an overall passionate presence make for an astonishing viewer experience despite the virtual setting.
The selection of Fantasia is rather fitting as the piece, which debuted in 1910 at Gloucester Cathedral, closed without applause out of respect to the religious setting at the time. The lack of ovation after the final notes fade away on the live stream acts as a nod to the original performance, resulting in a truly one-of-a-kind arrangement for our modern times.
Conductor John Wilson manages to arrange a flawlessly-performed concerto that maintains a rich sound despite the three-metre social distancing requirement between players.
Photo: Camilla Greenwell