Everything about Dvořák's Cello Concerto in B minor in Stockholm's Konserthuset was special. The graceful, elegant, unstressed orchestral introduction, the way the French horn breathed life into his iconic solo, the woodwinds' lovely chirping and singing, the unhurried urgency with which the Nathalie Stutzmann whipped the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra up into the last big tutti before the entrance of the soloist.

Nathalie Stutzmann, Sheku Kanneh-Mason and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra
© Yanan Li

Sheku Kanneh-Mason entered broad and warm, with a total lack of ego, taking the 16th-notes at a speed at which they could be heard and, as they would be for the entire concerto, the orchestra was with him all the way. He eased into the French horn theme just as unforgettably as his colleague had, and used his open A string to ground the humanity of the melody. He sang each of the first four bars of the inconsolably sad theme at the Molto sostenuto in one bow, which added a moment of incomparable serenity without dragging down the tempo or slowing the momentum. He had a rough time with the fiendishly difficult double-stopped passages but recovered in time to sail upward through the chromatic run perfectly in synch with the orchestra and conductor and was never technically challenged again.

He and Stutzmann, newly named principal guest conductor of The Philadelphia Orchestra beginning with the 2021-22 season, gave full measure to all the notes and phrases, and disregarded many of the usual "interpretive" conventions, such as slowing down at ritardandos but only reluctantly returning to speed at in tempos, that have accumulated over the centuries.

Sheku Kanneh-Mason and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra
© Yanan Li

They painted the Adagio, ma non troppo with colors that revealed at times a vast exotic landscape; his dialogue with the oboe was exquisite, the horns leading into the cadenza were poets, and the young cellist's noble, heroic quality was underlined by his commitment to the treacherous flageolet harmonics at the end which he played softly and in tune.

Kanneh-Mason nailed his first entrance in the Finale, continued to have his way with trills, each time in the dialogue he threw it down to the orchestra they responded in kind; his recitative was impassioned, and his brief sigh after the Poco meno mosso, two bars before returning to one of the last in tempos, was a miracle.

Sheku Kanneh-Mason, Nathalie Stutzmann and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra
© Yanan Li

Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony had the same basic qualities as the Dvořák, reserved and precisely paced so that the swells of sound felt less like Stutzmann was interpreting the music than letting the players go. The opening Allegro con anima was alive and upbeat, with pleasant punch from the timpani and a solid low end that the detailed recording loved every minute of; there was demonstration-quality low bass sound from the bassoon, cello and double bass, and another magnificent French horn solo – by a different player than in the Dvořák, no less. Stutzmann's moderate tempos always seemed right for where the instruments and the tunes seemed most comfortable; overall this was elegant and luxurious Tchaikovsky, with the Valse having very much the feeling of a ballet finding itself unexpectedly in the middle of a symphony. At the end of the Finale, the camera shots of the gleaming brass were as beautiful as the golden sounds themselves.


This performance was reviewed from the KonserthusetPlay video stream

*****