Bruce Hodges hears a performance of Haydn, Xi Wang and Mahler at Philadelphia’s Verizon Hall on 10 December 2022

Stylish Haydn from Sheku Kanneh-Mason. Photo: Jeff Fusco

Stylish Haydn from Sheku Kanneh-Mason. Photo: Jeff Fusco

Sheku Kanneh-Mason (cello) Philadelphia Orchestra/Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Verizon Hall 10 December 2022


Revelling in Haydn’s D major Cello Concerto, Sheku Kanneh-Mason coaxed maximum melodious timbre from his Gofriller instrument from 1700 – tonally sumptuous, with a sweet yet light sound. If only that sound had been slightly more forceful, to register more strongly in Philadelphia’s cello-shaped hall. But other pleasures were bountiful in the artist’s attacks, bowing expertise and effortless flights of double-stopping.

A rare mishap occurred in the final movement: a violinist’s instrument suffered a broken tailpiece, signalled by an alarmingly loud snap. Nézet-Séguin halted the proceedings as the musician exited, and turned sympathetically to the audience, ‘I couldn’t just let him sit there’. After the violin section realigned to fill the empty chair, Kanneh-Mason (right) again plunged into the movement. (No-one seemed unhappy to hear it again.) Acknowledging the cheering crowd, the cellist handed his bow to the conductor, who sat on the podium and watched a mellow, all-pizzicato arrangement of Burt Bacharach’s ‘I Say a Little Prayer’.

Earlier in the evening came the world premiere of Ensō by Dallas-based composer Xi Wang, who included a striking rhythmic sequence for massed strings, accented by low brass and brake drum. Mahler’s Fourth Symphony closed the programme, with soprano Pretty Yende in the finale. But readers of this magazine may well have been most interested in concertmaster David Kim in the second-movement Scherzo, who deftly swapped his regular violin for a retuned instrument that Mahler requires. His playing in the piquant alter ego strains was only part of the ensemble pleasure.