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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Cello Concerto
Dmitri KABALEVSKY (1904-1987)

Cello Concerto
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)

Divertimento in D arr Piatigorsky
Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946)

Suite Populaire Espagnol arr Marechal
Ritual Fire Dance
Daniel Shafran, cello
Nina Musinyan, piano
State Orchestra of Russia conducted by Kyril Kondrashin (Schumann)
State Orchestra of Russia conducted by Dmitri Kabalevsky (Kabalevsky)
Recorded 1952 (Kabalevsky) 1957 other items
OMEGA CLASSICS OCD 1026 [66’15]


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Shafran became something of a legendary figure amongst cellists. He made a fabled child prodigy debut at ten, playing the Rococo Variations with the Leningrad Philharmonic conducted by Albert Coates. In later years, though, he toured abroad very seldom – making sporadic visits in the 1960s to Rome, New York and London and a succession of visits to Japan where he was immensely popular and had a number of students. Towards the end of his life he gave two celebrated recitals at Wigmore Hall.

Omega Classics charts Shafran in the 1950s. He was 29 when he recorded the Kabalevsky - the Schumann, Haydn and de Falla followed five years later. All these recordings deserve considerable attention not least for the marked differences between Shafran and his more famous contemporary Rostropovich. Both had emerged from the shadow of Sviatoslav Knushevitsky, the Soviet Union’s leading cellist, but it was Rostropovich whose powerful and multi-faceted magnetism was to dominate post-War Soviet cello playing. Here however we have the opportunity to investigate the recordings of a musician of distinctive, sometimes idiosyncratic, gifts. In the Schumann, which receives a characteristically involved performance, Shafran leans on notes and can be abrupt and declamatory. In the first movement he is somewhat rhetorical though his playing of the high lying passages is impressive and his dramatic oratory may well appeal garnished as it is with some intensely vibrated passages. From 10’04 on there is some provocatively expressive phrasing which leads to a slow movement in which he lavishes considerable reserves of tonal fire. In the finale there are some vertiginous dynamics and eyebrow raising swoops – the passionate intensity of his bowing and its allied intricacies can’t be overlooked and nor, in all honesty, can the fact that this isn’t the cleanest playing you will hear though it is amongst the least dull. Shafran inserts his own cadenza which is fractious in the extreme though undeniably exciting. Kondrashin is commendably attentive throughout.

The rash of Soviet Cello Concertos written approaching or just after the War’s end included those by Miaskovsky, Khachaturian and Kabalevsky. The last was written in 1948-9 and is considerably the superior of the overblown Khachaturian though significantly less impressive than Miaskovsky’s. Shafran bends his notes with extraordinary conviction in the imitation of Eastern wind instruments and he is commandingly assertive. His was not an aristocracy aesthetic of cello playing as was, say, Fournier’s – Shafran could be, and is here, an impressive exponent of high tensile playing, intensely rhythmic with the ability to retard and relax rhythms, which he does to tremendous effect in the opening movement. His engagingly sly slowing down at the movement’s charming conclusion is expertly judged. In the second movement we can hear some indistinct sound in the orchestra – the recording is occasionally rather muddily diffuse – especially in the lower strings. The orchestral exchanges are robust, Shafran’s playing prayerful and leanly expressive – I only wish the orchestral weren’t so withdrawn in the balance. The freely repeated but varied dance of the finale is distinctly pleasurable listening, with filigree solo work, whip cracks and folk-like winds leading to a fireworks conclusion negotiated with excellence by Shafran and orchestra alike. The remainder of the programme sees the cellist partnered by Nina Musinyan. At the start of the Piatigorsky arranged Haydn Shafran makes a very slow downward portamento but elsewhere he uses his lean and fast vibrato to good and well varied effect. He fines down his tone, shading the vibrato with differing colours and speeds as the Adagio develops. We can hear his big, booming lower strings in the Minuet and Trio and some energetic work on the upper strings as well and in the concluding movement we can hear real engagement and some very quick and naughty portamentos. Maurice Marechal, one of the greatest of all cellists, arranged the de Falla Suite Populaire Espagnole and lucky left us a recording of some movements from it. Shafran is inward and withdrawn in Nana, yearning and keening in Cancion but with a sharp edged quality, his upper strings contrasting with the deliberately rougher tone he elsewhere employs. He is fiery and passionate in Polo and in Asturiana we can appreciate another facet of Shafran’s art – his considered variance of expressive devices, where quickly expressive portamentos are not repeated in the same theme. I enjoyed Musinyan’s pianism in Jota and theirs is a cohesive partnership but maybe Shafran is a little discursive in the slow sections, too much disparity thus emerging when he lurches into the faster ones. Comparison with Marechal shows, not unexpectedly, that the French cellist, recorded many years earlier in 1929 is tighter, tauter, less fervid tonally, less elastic, less romanticised. The Ritual Fire Dance is a propulsive and fiery way to end this most rewarding recital. There’s no chance of Shafran floating a mellow covered tone here – it is raw and alive with excited and expressive musicianship. And entirely consonant with the rest of this varied and well documented disc.

Jonathan Woolf

 


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