Braimah, left, and Sheku Kanneh-Mason
Braimah, left, and Sheku Kanneh-Mason © Chris Jackson/Getty

Here is a new spin on the adage that Christmas is for children. The arrival on the scene of the Kanneh-Masons presents an opportunity for Christmas to be a time when classical music can be shared with the whole family.

Since second son Sheku achieved international fame playing the cello at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, he has been a top seller in the classical charts. The question has been what should he record next?

Perhaps he suggested “The Swan”, a favourite cello solo from Saint-Saëns’s Carnival of the Animals, and then somebody had the bright idea of inviting other members of the family to join him in the rest of the work. So, here is Saint-Saëns’s complete score played by five of the Kanneh-Mason siblings with a handful of guest musicians filling in the other parts.

It is a bright and breezy performance of a piece that is always more enjoyable when it is played by the original line-up of 11 instruments than a full string section. There is also the bonus of a newly written script by Michael Morpurgo, read by the star duo of the author and actress Olivia Colman. This adds a fresh and modern but never condescending guide to the animals, and one with a distinct ecological slant.

For the filler, Morpurgo chose his short story Grandpa Christmas. Interspersed with short popular pieces played by all seven of the Kanneh-Mason siblings, this finds grandpa telling his granddaughter, read here by Mariatu Kanneh-Mason, that “Earth is a living, breathing being” and we must “learn to love her again”.


Carnival of the Animals’ is released by Decca

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