A MISERABLY wet Friday night might not seem to offer much incentive to gather in a church in Milverton, but many of those who packed into St. Michael’s last week knew exactly why it was the place to be.

They were ‘the ones who know’ – know that the Milverton Concert Society can be guaranteed to present musical experiences of the highest quality. The ambience at these concerts is always a joy to experience – hundreds of candles providing a warming glow, enthusiastic and welcoming front of house staff, the promise of a cheering glass of wine at the interval and a general buzz of expectation.

The attraction last Friday was of course the presence of pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason, the oldest member of the astoundingly musical family whose fame is now world-wide thanks to the success of ‘cellist Sheku, winner of the BBC Young Musician Competition.

Her programme on Friday was for the most part firmly in the 19th century romantic repertoire. Brahms in particular composed piano music which is both technically demanding and richly lyrical and Isata chose four works from towards the end of his composing career.

From the outset, the B Flat Intermezzo from his Op. 117, we knew that we were listening to playing of stunning maturity from one so relatively young. She performed with limpid clarity, every note beautifully articulated and the whole sound was one of glorious sonority. In this work, and the next, the A Major Intermezzo from Op. 118, she never allowed the texture to become in any way thick or muddy, thanks to wonderful control of the pedal and scrupulous attention to dynamics.

After the interval, Isata opened with a piece of music in total contrast to what had gone before, the ‘Chaconne’ by Russian/Tatar composer Sofia Gubaidulina, written in 1931. This has a fiercely dissonant opening, making use of the full compass of the keyboard with striding bass figures and astringent upper arpeggios.

The music is restless, urgent always pressing forward. Again, with the sheer power available from a modern Yamaha grand, it would have been so easy to let the sound become congested and muddy, but no matter how dense the texture, she played with brilliant clarity – this was exciting, masterful piano playing.

Review by Harold Mead.