Nottingham's Royal Concert Hall management was counting on a near-capacity audience for local girl Jeneba Kanneh-Mason's contribution to their Sunday morning piano series, with extra seating made available. The turn-out may well have exceeded even their expectations – Nottingham, UK, 15 January 2023.
Rather than playing the opening figure of Beethoven's Sonata in D, Op 10 No 3 as the fierce leap and pounce we often hear, she made it into something engagingly sly, setting the tone for an exploration of the composer at his most playfully subversive. The many left-hand leaps from bass to treble and back were thrown off with great aplomb. As she explored the second movement's contrasts of darkness and light, she allowed its tragic nature to emerge without heavy-handed over-emphasis. There was emotional restraint, too, in the scherzo third movement, with even the comically galumphing trio section having a degree of seriousness. The last movement returns to the atmosphere of the first and, again, Jeneba had the measure of its teasing start.
She showed full command of the darkness and turbulence in the fifth of Rachmaninov's Etudes-Tableaux, Op 39, confidently steering the emotional narrative towards its quiet final resolution.
Jeneba launched into Debussy's Estampes with a gentle account of 'Pagodes'. Just occasionally it was a little softer in focus and freer in tempo than I would have liked, but climaxes were well built, and she projected Debussy's range of sonorities with complete assurance. Similarly, in 'La Soirée dans Grenade', the background habanera rhythm had just enough presence, and the guitar-like figurations were firm and incisive. Amid the toccata figuration of 'Jardins sous la Pluie', there was a clear sense of line, and the hints of the two children's songs made their point without undue spotlighting.
It's been good to see the likes of Florence Price getting their long-overdue share of attention recently. Jeneba played the first of four pieces Price called Fantasie Nègre, a meditation on the spiritual 'Sinner, please don't let this harvest pass'. She showed the same degree of finesse in the piano's upper octaves as we heard in the Rachmaninov and Debussy, and handled the harmonic shifts with aplomb. Above all, in spite of the technical hurdles, she demonstrated that it was a lot more than just a bravura showpiece.
A fleet-fingered performance of Felix Mendelssohn's Rondo Capriccioso was an delectable way to end.
Copyright © 20 January 2023