As she prepares to open the 2024 BBC Proms season, Isata Kanneh-Mason today announces her fourth solo album, Mendelssohn, to be released on 9th August on Decca Classics. Here the pianist presents music from both Mendelssohn siblings: the glittering Piano Concerto No.1 by Felix and the long-lost ‘Easter Sonata’ by his exceptionally talented but overlooked elder sister Fanny, as well as transcriptions by other composers of some of Mendelssohn’s most famous music.

“I am fascinated by Fanny Mendelssohn,’ says Kanneh-Mason, ‘She lived in such a confined way, yet her music has so much fire and so much passion.”That confinement was part and parcel of life for women in the 19th-century: Fanny was prevented by her father from pursuing a career as a concert pianist or composer due to her gender. Rather than adhere to his strict instructions that music should be merely an ‘ornament’ for his daughter, Fanny composed in private, writing nearly 500 works. Many of these are still being discovered today, with several – such as the ‘Easter’ Sonata, written when Fanny was only 22 – a piece lost for 150 years, originally assumed to have been created by Felix and performed under his name for decades.

Isata recently featured in the critically acclaimed film ‘Fanny: The Other Mendelssohn’, produced by the composer’s great-great-great-granddaughter Sheila Hayman, which explores the life of Fanny Mendelssohn, later Fanny Hensel, and revealing the fascinating story behind ‘Easter Sonata’. This new album features the world premiere recording of the new urtext edition of this work. 

In programming the sonata alongside better-known music by Felix, Isata hopes to bring long-deserved recognition to Fanny’s achievements. Supporting neglected women composers is important to the eldest Kanneh-Mason sibling: the pianist recorded Clara Schumann’s concerto on her 2019 album Romance and will perform that work at this year’s First Night of the Proms (on 19th July; with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor Elim Chan).

The album blends well-loved works – Felix Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25, performed with the London Mozart Players, conducted by Jonathan Bloxham – with lesser-known gems, including Fanny’s Notturno in G minor for solo piano – also unpublished in the composer’s lifetime. The Mendelssohns regularly performed together during childhood and remained close through adulthood – even dying within a year of each other. As a member of one of the UK’s most beloved musical families, Isata Kanneh-Mason understands the musical connection between siblings (as heard on Muse, her 2021 duo album with cellist brother Sheku) and brings this empathy to her performance.

In an interesting programmatic twist, Kanneh-Mason includes three transcriptions by other composers who were inspired by Felix Mendelssohn. Rachmaninoff’s version of the Scherzo from A Midsummer Night’s Dream is among his most virtuosic solo adventures. “You’re leaping all over the piano and it’s incredibly complex, but also very subtle,” says Kanneh-Mason.

The Mendelssohn constellation also connects Moritz Moszkowski’s version of the dreamy Nocturne from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, an ethereal, sparsely beautiful reimagining of the sleeping lovers scene. Although Moszkowski was well known in his lifetime, his work has fallen out of fashion, and this is another revival of a rarely heard piece.

The carefully selected programme is all, of course, delivered with Isata’s unique style and perspective. The pianist is increasingly busy with concerto appearances, solo recitals, and chamber concerts throughout the UK and abroad. This season’s highlights include performances at the Lucerne Festival, the Zurich Tonhalle, Wigmore Hall, Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Saint-Denis Festival in Paris, and an extensive US tour starting in June. Key dates include a performance at Carnegie Hall in New York with the European Union Youth Orchestra (EUYO) and Iván Fischer on August 6th, as well as recitals in Baltimore on October 6th, Florida on October 9th, Ann Arbor on October 10th, and Burlington on October 12th, among others.

Track listings:

  1. Mendelssohn: Piano Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 25: I. Molto allegro con fuoco*
  2. Mendelssohn: Piano Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 25: II. Andante*
  3. Mendelssohn: Piano Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 25: III. Presto – Molto allegro e vivace*
  4. Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Op. 61: Scherzo (transcription by Rachmaninoff)
  5. Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Op. 61: Nocturne (transcription by Moszkowski)
  6. Mendelssohn: On Wings of Song S. 547: I. Auf Flügeln des Gesanges (transcribed by Liszt)
  7. Mendelssohn: Lieder ohne Worte VI, Op. 67: II. Allegro leggiero, MWV U145 (‘Lost Illusions’)
  8. Mendelssohn: Lieder ohne Worte VI, Op. 67: VI. Allegretto non troppo, MWV U188 (‘Cradle Song’)
  9. Fanny Mendelssohn: Notturno in G Minor, H-U 337
  10. Fanny Mendelssohn: Easter Sonata: I. Allegro assai moderato
  11. Fanny Mendelssohn: Easter Sonata: II. Largo e molto espresso – Poco più mosso
  12. Fanny Mendelssohn: Easter Sonata: III. Scherzo. Allegretto
  13. Fanny Mendelssohn: Easter Sonata: IV. Allegro con strepito

* with the London Mozart Players, conducted by Jonathan Bloxham

About Isata Kanneh-Mason

British pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason (b. 1996) is the eldest sibling in the Kanneh-Mason family; she performs as a soloist and as a chamber musician together with her brothers and sisters. Isata is a Decca Classics recording artist: her 2019 album Romance – the Piano Music of Clara Schumann topped the UK classical charts and subsequent releases – Summertime (2021) and Childhood Tales (2023) – were praised for their programming and musicianship. Like the current release, previous albums have featured important, previously overlooked historic works, notably the world premiere recording of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Impromptu No. 2 in B minor.

The Kanneh-Masons are the UK’s most beloved musical family, recognised for their advocacy for music education and diversity in classical music. Isata is a founding member of the Chineke! Orchestra, an ensemble that supports Black and ethnically diverse musicians. She makes her solo debut with Chineke! later this year (21 November), when she will perform Prokofiev’s third piano concerto – the work she made her solo Proms debut with in 2023, performing with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and Ryan Bancroft – with the orchestra at London’s Southbank Centre.

Isata regularly performs with her cellist brother Sheku, who made history when he became the first Black artist to win the BBC Young Musician competition in 2016. (Isata reached the keyboard finals in 2014, and her younger sister Jeneba achieved the same feat in 2018.) Isata and Sheku’s duo album Muse (2021) followed on from their notable recital together during the 2020 BBC Proms, where the siblings performed to an almost-empty Royal Albert Hall. Isata and Sheku also collaborate with violinist brother Braimah as the Kanneh-Mason Trio, and in 2020 all seven siblings featured on Carnival of the Animals, a charming recording of Saint-Saëns’s iconic work, interspersed with specially written poems by Michael Morpurgo, read by the author and Olivia Colman.

With a burgeoning award collection including the coveted Leonard Bernstein Award – following on from winning an Sir Elton John Scholarship to study at London’s Royal Academy of Music, where she graduated in 2020, Isata maintains a busy performing schedule and has recently made debuts at the Barbican, Wigmore Hall, the Philharmonie Berlin and the Lucerne Festival.