Classical Album of the Week: Summertime with American Music played by Pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason
August 9, 2021. She's the eldest of seven in an increasingly famous English family of musical siblings. Isata Kanneh-Mason's idea for her second solo recording began with Samuel Barber's Piano Sonata and grew into an album with a rich variety of 20th century music by American composers.
You can hear the passion in Isata Kanneh-Mason's new album, Summertime -- which takes its name from the famous Gershwin melody, and kicks off with with Earl Wild's luxurious transcription of that piece from Porgy and Bess, followed by Wild's take on the lively "I Got Rhythm."
But it was the Samuel Barber's Piano Concerto that first captured Isata's heart, and became the foundation of the album, side by side with Barber's dreamy Nocturne.
"I did and I still do have a Barber obsession; I just stumbled across the Piano Sonata, the Barber Nocturne and also the Piano Concerto, which I haven't played but I love. I think he's a wonderful composer." She's also played Barber's cello and piano concerto with her brother, Sheku Kanneh-Mason, known to millions as the soloist in the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
On Summertime, the Barber Sonata and Nocturne are joined by Gershwin's Three Preludes, along with Percy Grainger's transcription of Gershwin's "The Man I Love," a reflective By the Still Waters by Amy Beach, and Aaron Copland's playful scherzo, The Cat and the Mouse. The album wraps up with four works by the late 19th/early 20th century English composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, who toured the U.S., famous in his time for his contata "Haiwatha's Wedding Feast." Here, we hear three soulful spirituals from his set of 24 Negro Melodies, as well as the world premiere recording of his Impromptu No. 2 in B minor.
Isata's enthusiasm about making this first recording of the Impromptu, is evident. In addition to loving the music, she says she also feels a personal connection with the composer. "A few years ago when I was playing with the Chineke! Orchestra here in Britain, we were playing some Coleridge-Taylor, which I loved, and I found out that his family was from Sierra Leone, where my family's from. I was really excited by that."
Family is important to Isata, and being with her six musical siblings for the first part of the lockdown helped her navigate the pandemic. "We were lucky because we were able to play chamber music; we had a garden; it felt very much like a return to childhood to all be in that house together."
And the story that this album tells? "Every piece is its own world and tells its own story," she says. "Each piece represents a different side of American music." So kick back, listen, and lose yourself in the beauty and range of this music, for summertime and beyond.
Tracklist for Summertime
Earl Wild, "Summertime" from Grand Fantasy on Porgy and Bess (after G. Gershwin); 7 Virtuoso Etudes, 1. "I Got Rhythm" (after G. Gershwin)
Samuel Barber, Nocturne; Piano Sonata in E-Flat Minor
George Gershwin, "The Man I Love;" 3 Preludes
Amy Beach, By the Still Waters
Aaron Copland, The Cat and the Mouse
Samuel Coleridge Taylor, Impromptu No.2 in B Minor; "Deep River;" "The Bamboula;" "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child"