It may have been the FA Cup Final, it may have been the Eurovision Song Contest, but for literally hundreds of music lovers there was only one place to be: in St Mary’s Church, eagerly awaiting the arrival of five members of the remarkable Kanneh-Mason family! It was the 80th anniversary concert of our equally remarkable Horsham Music Circle, and the first generous and heartfelt applause went to Jill Elsworthy, who has kept the light on throughout many recent vicissitudes, including Covid-19!
And back to the Kanneh-Masons, whose varied programme showcased all five performers to their very best advantage. The opening Mendelssohn piano trio gave us an immediate feel for the musical empathy between them. The lyrical melody passed seamlessly between instruments, with 12-year-old cellist Mariatu demonstrating the extraordinarily mature ensemble-sense which she later showed us in her final delightful solos with elder sister Jeneba on piano.
Konya then gave us two of Schubert’s most appealing piano Impromptus, demonstrating a real understanding of his passion for both melody and variation, and bringing a genuinely Schubertian song-like approach to these much-loved pieces. We were then treated to an extra item – 3 perfect little Bartok miniatures for violin duo - before two stunning performances from Jeneba. The Bach was superb, invigorating and dance-like, never losing sight of the fugal subject whilst using a wide range of articulation to enhance it. This was followed by a real tour de force: Liszt’s 2nd Hungarian Rhapsody played with all the requisite combination of rhythmic bravura and delicate cadenza-like figuration it demands.
So far, so staple repertoire; but after the interval we were introduced to a wonderful sonata by the somewhat neglected Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. This was introduced by violinist Braimah, who explained the heritage connection he felt to the piece and then proceeded to play it with a sense of personal involvement which was palpable from the opening plangent unaccompanied line. It was a wonderful performance from both Braimah and Jeneba which held the packed church enthralled, with passages of frenetic energy in the final movement relapsing into the air of melancholy which pervades the work.
The Kreisler and Brahms violin solos which followed were perfectly calculated to restore the upbeat mood, with violinist Aminata, paired with pianist Konya, showing an elegant lightness of touch in the one, and a rhythmic exuberance in the other. They were followed by soulful Rachmaninov and lively Bridge from Mariatu – who will soon be treading on the heels of elder brother Sheku, if this is anything to go by! – and the enrapt audience was then given two encores by the whole quintet, ending with their own arrangement of Monti’s Czardas, which brought the house down – or rather up – as they were given a much-deserved standing ovation! Forget the Cup Final, forget Eurovision – this was definitely the place to be!