“The whole of this album is full of great music, some of which has really inspired us,” pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason tells Apple Music. “I think that really fits the title of Muse.” True, but while the Barber and Rachmaninoff cello sonatas and song arrangements (one of the songs is called “The Muse”) are perfectly suited to Isata and her cellist brother, Sheku, this album’s title refers just as much to them both as musicians. After all, a muse is often a person who can kindle the very best in someone. As part of one of the world’s most gifted musical families, Isata and Sheku have been performing together since they were very young—and have long been raising each other to new heights. “Most of the repertoire that I’ve played for cello and piano has always been with Isata,” says Sheku. “It’s been a great inspiration to be able to play with Isata for so many years.” “We know each other’s playing very well,” adds Isata, “so there’s an element of trust. Of course, we need to work together on the music and the detail, but there’s no awkward bumpiness with the playing.” The music on this thrilling album—Sheku and Isata’s debut as a duo—showcases the piano as much as it does the cello. Hardly surprising in the case of Russian composer Rachmaninoff, who was arguably the finest pianist of the 20th century. The Barber sonata here, meanwhile, surely owes its heart-on-sleeve romanticism and irresistible vitality to the fact that it was written by the 21-year-old US composer while still at music college in New York. “We looked through a lot of Rachmaninoff and Barber songs, and all of them seemed to work well on the cello,” agrees Sheku. “It was just a case of picking our favorite ones and also having a variety of character and styles.” Read on as the siblings share their thoughts on those favorites. Cello Sonata, Op. 6 Sheku Kanneh-Mason: “The sonata isn’t actually that long, but it feels like there’s so much detail packed into it. There’s never a second where there’s no drama happening. It’s always traveling somewhere or approaching a climax. But the climaxes themselves never last for very long—they grow and come down again very quickly. Barber is very inventive and distinct harmonically, and in the middle of the second movement he experiments with intricate rhythms and notes. But then he has these wonderful romantic melodies, too.” Songs by Samuel Barber IKM: “We didn’t know these pieces until we started searching for songs to go on this album, so they’re new to us and they’re so beautiful. What I like about them is that they’re very, very short. But Barber depicts the character of each of them immediately. He doesn’t need more than two or three minutes to paint an entire world. We read the lyrics and really tried to bring that feeling to the songs, even though we obviously don’t have a voice. So, for ‘Sure on this Shining Night, Op. 13 No. 3,’ the lyrics are expressing a deep love and appreciation of nature. You can hear that in the long, repeated chords in the piano. It sounds very ‘open plan.’ The sustained notes in the cello give the whole thing a very reverent feel.” Songs by Sergei Rachmaninoff IKM: “The Rachmaninoff songs are so incredibly poetic—the English translation can’t do it justice! Particularly in ‘The Muse,’ which became the album’s title, the emotion is so vivid that you almost don’t really need to know what it’s about. Rachmaninoff’s use of harmony in that song, in particular, is really incredible. The chords that he’ll transition between is something that you don’t hear anywhere else. It’s very unexpected, but it really works. And there’s a very nostalgic feeling to the song, too.” SKM: “These songs are so rich and so expansive. ‘The Muse’ is so dreamlike in the way it starts with the rippling piano. It’s like you’re entering a dreamworld. But it ends in the same way, so you go through this amazing journey in this incredibly detailed and rich world, and then you just end it, almost as if nothing has happened.” Cello Sonata in G Minor, Op. 19 IKM: “The Rachmaninoff was one of my biggest inspirations growing up. Sheku and I have known it since our childhood, and it’s always been the piece of chamber music I most wanted to play, in terms of cello and piano sonatas. I remember the first couple of times I performed it, though, I always felt like I needed a long break after every single movement because each one is like a symphony when it comes to the emotion and the musical content, but also in terms of the technical demands on each instrument. And then, at the same time, it’s such a beautiful piece of music. It’s instantly accessible, but the closer you step to the music, the more detail there is to find. We thought we knew the piece very well before we started playing it. And then, as we worked on it, as months went by, we found more details.”  SKM: “I think the third moment is one of the greatest pieces of music ever. It’s so expressive and romantic. It’s one of cellists’ favorite things to be able to play. For us, the second movement was the one that we really, really enjoyed playing together. It’s very vivid in terms of the image that it paints.”

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