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Aulos Music

AntonŪn DVOŘŃK (1841-1904)
Cello Concerto in B minor Op.104 (1895)*
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)

Cello Concerto No.2 in D major Hob 7b-2 (1782)+
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

Daniil Shafran (cello)
Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra/Mariss Jansons, recorded 1980*
USSR State Symphony Orchestra/Neeme Jarvi, recorded 1977+
Anton Ginsburg (piano), recorded 1970
AULOS MUSIC AMC2-053 [68.04]


No sooner have I recovered from a recent bout of Shafran Immersion than I receive the latest release from the Aulos stable, excellent bespoke purveyors of the remastered Melodiya catalogue. And what a release it is Ė the most exhausting performance of the DvořŠk to which Iíve ever listened. Not exhausting as in enervating or preening Ė just sheer exhausting. Itís a live performance given in Moscow in 1980 and presided over by something of a master DvořŠkian, Mariss Jansons.

The audience is well behaved but the recording is rather poor inasmuch as the acoustic is big and unsubtle, the balance is not perfect with the strings always covered by the brass in the tuttis and the solo cello seems sometimes to be in its own mini echo chamber. But the playing ..... It opens quite slowly, building up anticipation. Then Shafran enters with his granitic chording and very uningratiating tone. He employs a lot of portamenti, slows markedly for the second subject, bleaches his tone white for expressive effect and generally engages in a welter of emotive and suggestive gestures: extreme diminuendi, great elasticity of phrasing etc. The effect is one of constant change and completely unsettled motion. The most off-putting to those not initiated in his art will be the on/off vibrato. Admirer though I am I have to admit that even I baulked at the excess of it here. Itís a completely crushing performance of the first movement.

If I was an unsympathetic critic of Shafran Iíd point to an excess of the same in the second movement allied to sentimental phrase endings, overheated phrasing and the sense of vocalised pain in the tone. Maybe some of these are profounder virtues. Everything in this performance is outsize and utterly personal. No-one sounds remotely like Shafran; his bowing is as individualized as his tone in the finale, and his sense of the terpsichorean is powerfully engaged, as is the sense of constant flux. I like the way Jansons brings out little Tchaikovskian instrumentation as well, even if his soloist can phrase rather grandiloquently from time to time. The weird, curdled passion Shafran evokes in the reminiscence toward the end is truly astonishing, the performance at once profound, wilful, perverse and sui generis. As I said, exhausting.

After which the Haydn is almost normal. There are no great surprises here, though the cadenzas are overlong and Shafran indulges them rather. He is nicely lyric in the slow movement and employs a quick and luscious slide or two in the finale. Nobody made rules for Shafran. We end with a little reminder of his fine partnership with pianist Anton Ginsburg.

One final thing; you may find yourself astonished by Shafranís DvořŠk but you wonít be half as astonished as the audience sounds at the end. They clap like people who have just sat through an earthquake. As indeed, in a sense, they have.

Jonathan Woolf


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