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The recordings of Daniil Shafran on AULOS
Daniil Shafran (cello)

Dreaming

Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Adagio and Allegro in A flat major Op.70
Träumerei – from Kinderszenen Op.15 No.7
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Adagio from Toccata, Adagio and Fugue BWV564
Luigi BOCCHERINI (1743-1805)

Minuetto - from String Quintet in E major Op.11. No.5
Alfred SCHNITTKE (1934-1988)

Allegro from Suite in Ancient Style
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)

Vocalise Op.34 No.14
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

March – from The Love of Three Oranges
Rodion SCHEDRIN (b.1932)

Quadrille – from the opera Not Love Alone
Imitation of Albeniz

Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Mélodie – from Souvenir d’un lieu cher Op.42 No.3
Valse sentimentale in F minor Op.51 No.6
Jacques IBERT (1890-1962)

Histoires Le petit ane blanc
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

Clair de lune – from Bergamasque Suite
Minstrels from preludes, Book I
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)

Habanera – from Rapsodie Espagnole
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)

Le Cygne – from Le carnival des animaux
Anton Ginsburg (piano)
No recording details
AULOS MUSIC AMC2 013 [62.40]

Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Arpeggione Sonata

with Felix Gottlieb (piano) recorded 1978
César FRANCK (1822-1890)

Cello Sonata (arranged from Violin Sonata in A major)
with Anton Ginsburg (piano) recorded 1970
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

Cello Sonata
with Anton Ginsburg (piano) recorded 1970
AULOS MUSIC AMC2 017 [62.35]

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
The Five Cello Sonatas

Cello Sonata No.1 in F major Op.5 No.1
Cello Sonata No.2 in G minor Op.5 No.2
Cello Sonata No.3 in A major Op.69
Cello Sonata No.4 in C major Op.102 No.1
Cello Sonata No.5 in D major Op.102 No.2
Anton Ginsburg (piano)
Recorded 1971
AULOS MUSIC AMC2 016 [46.01 + 62.35]

Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Cello Sonata No.1 in E minor Op.38
Cello Sonata No.2 in F Op.99
Felix Gottlieb (piano)
Recorded June 1980
AULOS MUSIC AMC2 039 [53.11]

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Suites for Solo Cello

Suite No.1 in G major BWV1007
Suite No.2 in D minor BWV1008
Suite No.3 in C major BWV1009
Suite No.4 in E flat major BWV1010
Suite No.5 in C minor BWV 1011
Suite No.6 in D major BWV1012
Recorded 1969-74
AULOS MUSIC AMC2 012 [74.40 + 71.22]

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Sonatas for Cello and Clavier

Sonata No.1 BWV1027
Sonata No.2 BWV1028
Sonata No.3 BWV1029
Andrei Velkonsky (cembalo)
Recorded 1966
AULOS MUSIC AMC2 010 [46.31]
Daniil Shafran (cello) with accompanists and recording details as above

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Shafran was one of those musicians whose name is routinely prefaced by the word legendary. One of the most controversial string players of his generation he manages to bisect critical judgement, even seven years after his death.

Born in 1923 he was a recital soloist at twelve, made his concerto debut with Albert Coates and cut his first 78, it’s said, at fourteen, though I’ve not located anything earlier than after the Second War. This is certainly not unique in the annals of violin playing but, if true, quite some feat of prodigious accelerated development for a boy cellist.

Much of Shafran’s life is shrouded in mystique. Partly the reason is his lack of ubiquity on the international circuit. He was soloist with the Moscow Philharmonic in the Second World War but it wasn’t until 1960 that he appeared in the West, playing first in Carnegie Hall and then further afield. He made recordings steadily but many constituted remakes. He was a distinguished jury member for many years but was never a teacher at a conservatoire, though he did teach privately and gave masterclasses.

Of late Shafran’s recordings have emerged from a bewildering array of sources. The Shostakovich Sonata (with the composer) is on Electra, some Bach Suites are on obscure Yedang and less obscure (but deleted) Revelation – which has other Shafran discs on its books, Haydn and Tchaikovsky were on Melodiya whilst Cello Classics have a strong entrant in their Kabalevsky-Prokofiev-Tsintsadze release. Doremi have staked a claim for Shafran in at least two important issues and Russian Disc has – or had – his Davidov. And, importantly, Omega has his Schumann and Kabalevsky Concertos coupled with de Falla and to cap a by no means exhaustive list (even if it is exhausting) Multisonic had his Dvořák and the Schumann with Järvi. It’s certainly a bewildering situation for Shafran admirers and the latest entrant to the lists is the Korean company Aulos Classics, which now presents a slew of CDs licensed from Melodiya, whose famous logo adorns the cover of these discs.

A look at the headnote lays out the territory. There’s an encore disc called Dreaming, which may be a good place to start for those yet unversed in Shafran’s art. Aulos doesn’t date these pieces but they seem to derive from the 1980s and are with his regular accompanist Anton Ginsburg. I dare say detractors will feast on the very first item, the Schumann, which is subject to constant tonal and colouristic inflection; diminuendi, espressivo phrasing, lightening switches of tonal reserves bar by bar, the better to highlight its profile. The tone can be leanly centred, but the inflections are constant. Internationally of course Shafran was overshadowed by his great contemporary Rostropovich and their playing could not be more different, to judge from an example such as this. Shafran’s Bach playing (there’s more to come) – very different from Rostropovich’s – is noble and serious and one can appreciate his big personality in the two Schedrin examples. The Tchaikovsky Mélodie is beautifully phrased but seems to have been recorded at a lower level. The Ibert displays Shafran’s command of rhythm whilst his slow and intense Debussy is at a tangent from the French tradition as exemplified by an older player such as Maurice Maréchal. His Swan – well, it’s capricious, metrically daring and will be off-putting to some. The Schumann that ends the disc reflects those virtues (or vices if you prefer) that illuminated the Adagio and Allegro; quiveringly alive playing, elastic rhythm, unceasingly active playing, the very opposite of leonine legato.

His Schubert Arpeggione Sonata received three commercial recordings; the first was with Dieter Zechklin for Eterna in 1958, the second with Lydia Pecherskaya for RCA (coupled with the Shostakovich) and this third version in 1978 with Felix Gottlieb. I’d call Shafran’s playing here interventionist to a fault. There’s a long personalised slide, colours change all the time (his playing, within its tonal limits, has a huge variegation of tone colours); he’s elastic toward tempo relationships. His finale has delightfully light articulation along with subtle shading. The Franck is his only known commercial recording of the entire work – though live performances exist and have been issued. It dates from 1970. The more distant recording doesn’t impede appreciation of his well-calibrated partnership with Ginsburg. I tend to prefer a tight rein on this work – whether from a fiddle player or cellist. Shafran’s fantasy sometimes borders on the over-emoted for me and the Allegretto poco mosso isn’t really quite climactic enough. His Debussy, again his only extant recording of it, is relatively closely recorded (you can hear his breathing) but notable for the noble breadth he imparts. The second movement pizzicati are within apt stylistic limits, harmonics on the button. The playing is evocative, the bowing in the finale fluent and fast.

It’s especially instructive to hear his Brahms Sonatas – not least as a counterblast to the outsize masculinity of the Rostropovich/Serkin 1983 DG traversal. Shafran and Gottlieb recorded their sonatas three years earlier and we notice immediately that Shafran differs markedly – tonally, emotively, expressively, rhythmically – from his colleague and one-time rival. Shafran’s E minor opens almost as a lied veiled in the most melancholy italicisation. It is slow, certainly, non legato, with pronounced divisive rhythm; introspective with some uncomfortable moments on the lower two strings. The second subject steals in and the emotive stealth here is very Russian, whilst the Allegretto is taken at a good, sprightly quasi Minuet tempo. There’s fine fugal distribution in the finale – chordally crisp, strong and sinewy when necessary. But this is a profoundly different and divergent view from that of Rostropovich and Serkin. The Sonata in F doesn’t really open Vivace, as marked. It’s once more measured, meditative, idiosyncratic as ever. The noble restraint of the slow movement however is superior and even if Shafran is placed rather too near the microphones – meaning we can hear the abrasion of bowing and attacks (there’s no smooth, silken sheen about Shafran’s playing) nevertheless there’s manly strength to his phrasing and a profile generally of the utmost seriousness.

We’d earlier had a glimpse of Shafran’s Bach but the admirable news is that we have much more: three cello and harpsichord sonatas with Andrei Velkonsky and all six solo suites. Rostropovich has long confessed to fears at committing his Bach to posterity. The Russian/Soviet school generally tends to reflect more romantic affiliations and associations when it comes to Bach playing. Think for example of Feinberg’s richly nuanced piano transcriptions or Rostropovich’s own less than convincing traversals of the solo Suites. Shafran is an individualist of course and his Bach won’t be to all tastes. Still the cello and cembalo works (the viola da gamba sonatas in other words) show the breadth of his affiliations. They come with Velkonsky’s harpsichord accompaniments, somewhat unusually so for a Russian string player in the mid-1960s but indicative of Shafran’s probing instincts. His Bach is contained within expressive limits. The Allegro moderato finale of the first takes the qualifying instruction seriously, the dynamics of the second movement Allegro of BWV1028 being varied expertly - and the softened articulation a refined touch. Nothing sounds forced or artificial and Velkonsky (perhaps better known as an avant-garde composer) is a fine partner. The cellist reserves greatest expressive weight for the Andante of BWV1028, where the variations of colour are calibrated with absolute finesse. The most quasi-romantic is the corresponding Adagio of the three-movement BWV1029. He had earlier, by the way, recorded the third Sonata with Maria Grinberg, playing piano, on a 10" Melodiya.

It’s in the solo Cello Suites that one find the greatest of Shafran’s Bach. Due to restrictions on travel, lack of proliferation of his recordings, the greater ubiquity of his Russian repertoire, and doubtless other reasons – not least that these recordings were not made as a set but issued piece-meal between 1969 and 1964 – we know less of Shafran’s Bach than we should. Much less, say, than an older player such as Fournier. These performances are revealing of the differences between these two great players. Shafran is much more metrical than Fournier, less romanticised in profile. Fournier leans heavily on the first note of the G major whereas Shafran is away like a shot. There is a consistency between the two players. Shafran is almost always faster in fast movements and he is almost always slower than Fournier in slow movements. The effect is one of greater sleekness and modernity of interpretation, greater terpsichorean drive, with Fournier warmer and fuller-toned and Shafran tending more to the resinous and reedy. In Minuets Shafran is more urgent (see the G major), Fournier more graceful. The compelling differences of approach to the C minor show that Fournier’s forceful call-to-arms in the opening Prelude contrasts with the Russian’s more introspective intimacy. In the Sarabande Shafran finds a certain bleak direction matched all the way by Fournier (though the latter’s recording is warmer and more "open"). In the concluding Gigue Shafran’s tight, coiled vibrato is nervous and very intense. The culminatory trill episode sounds oddly in Shafran’s hands and here, in comparison with the more patrician Fournier, Shafran does sound almost overwrought (an isolated incident it should be noted). It may also be instructive to note that at the same basic tempo – in for example the Courante of the D minor - Shafran manages to vest his line with a greater sense of harrying insistence whilst Fournier takes just that bit extra time to phrase. As I suggested earlier the sound on a couple of the suite recordings is rather boxy and constricted but in general it’s clear and listenable. As a footnote it would certainly be good to hear the 1953 Melodiya recording of the G major and the 1958 Berlin D major (on Eterna). Neither to my knowledge has yet made it to CD.

The 1971 set of the Beethoven Cello Sonatas, once more with Ginsburg, is housed in a striking red double box set. Performances are perhaps less personalised than some in this series but no less compelling. Right from the veiled introduction to the Adagio sostenuto of Op.5 No.1 we are in the grip of a master cellist. His partnership with Ginsburg is a real partnership and not a flag of convenience, such as was, for example, the ill-matched Piatigorsky-Solomon traversal of the five sonatas. Tempi are flexible, adagios expressive but not glutinous and not over-vibrated even though he deploys a welter of tone colours. In the great A major we can hear rhythmic pull at its best and noble dignity to the phrasing. Articulation of the Scherzo is precise without being at all mannered, the Adagio introduction of the finale being concentrated yet spacious. He brings out the rather Bachian impress of the Andante of the C major even if his playing of the sonata as a whole may alienate some. It’s engagingly personalised playing with moments of arresting poetry and sudden swooping diminuendi, but he’s not always at his best in the higher positions. In the Allegro Vivace section the fugal pages are deft and well aerated and both he and Ginsburg catch the strangeness of this movement, neither submerging it nor codifying it. If the 1950s recording of the Third Sonata with that fine Italian pianist Carlo Zecchi has made it to CD I’ve missed it.

Licensed to Aulos from Melodiya these discs have been edited utilising Direct Stream Digital Remastering. From the documentary information, Aulos have had access to Melodiya’s master tapes. The results seem to me, given that I haven’t heard the LPs from which the majority derive, noteworthy transfers; excellent restorative work. I’m not able to make A/B comparisons with Doremi but I think it’s fair to say that this body of Shafran’s recordings has fared exceptionally well here. Notes are predominately in Korean only – there’s one disc with a biographical sketch (in approximate English). There’s certainly not a wealth of published material available on Shafran in English but the music’s the thing. If you only know Rostropovich or Knushevitzky amongst Russian cellists of this generation then you owe it to yourself to listen to Shafran. It’s an absolute feast for admirers.

Jonathan Woolf



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