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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Arpeggione Sonata in A minor, D821 [18:05]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Cello Sonata No. 2 in F major, Op. 99 [25:22]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Cello Sonata in D minor, L.135 [9:43]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Cello Sonata in D minor, Op. 40 [22:50]
Enrique GRANADOS (1867-1916)
Andaluza (Danza espaņola, Op. 37 No. 5) (arr. Casals) [3:48]
Daniil Shafran (cello)
Walter Bohle (piano)
rec. 6 November 1959, Karlsruhe, Sendesaal, South German Radio
MELOCLASSIC MC3012 [79:50]

Daniil Shafran (1923-1997) has become something of a cult figure amongst cellists and collectors. His highly individual style has polarized opinion but admirers, like myself, hold him in high regard and continue to enjoy his recorded legacy. He was born in Petrograd — later Leningrad, then Saint Petersburg — to musical parents. His father, Boris, was principal cellist of the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, and his mother, Frida, played the piano. After some initial tuition from his father he went to study at the Leningrad Conservatory. Amazingly, in 1937 at the age of only 14 he won first prize in the National Competition for Violinists and Cellists held in Moscow. Defeating all the adult participants he was awarded the 1630 Amati cello that he played for the rest of his life. For the remainder of his career he was overshadowed by Mstislav Rostropovich due to the fact that he didn’t really cultivate a career in the West like many other Soviet artists of his time. That said, he did make the occasional tour of Europe, USA and Japan. Confining himself mainly to his homeland he recorded mainly for Melodiya, noted for its then poor LP pressings and limited distribution.

This live German radio recording dates from 6 November 1959, and I'm impressed by how good it sounds considering its date and provenance. The pianist is Walter Bohle, a name I haven't come across before. Shafran made commercial inscriptions of all the works performed in this recital, sometimes on more than one occasion: Schubert (3), Brahms (1), Debussy (1), Shostakovich (4) and Granados (2). The qualities I find compelling in Shafran’s playing are to be found here. He has a rich, focused tone, achieved by an intense vibrato, the speed of which he varies to achieve a myriad shades and colours. His sound is never one-dimensional. His technique is formidable, and his intonation pristine. All of these qualities are underpinned by a profound musicianship. For me his playing is viscerally exciting and takes you to the edge.

It was interesting comparing the Schubert Sonata with the commercial counterpart Shafran made with Felix Gottlieb in 1979 for Melodiya which was issued on CD by Aulos Music (AMC2-017). Despite the twenty year interval, the Meloclassic version is much to be preferred. The sound of this Karlsruhe version has more warmth and intimacy. The sympathy between the cellist and his partner is also more tangible. It’s regrettable, however, that in the earlier reading he omits the first movement repeat. On the other hand, the finale benefits from a more stated urgency and forward momentum. I was surprised by the cellist’s consistency; every nuance and inflection was identical in both performances. Conversely, Shafran’s 1980 recording of the Brahms, again with Gottlieb fares better than this earlier airing. The later performance on Aulos (AMC2-039), in very good sound, is less taut, and allows the music to breathe more. The opening movement especially I found more bold, forthright and passionate.

The account of the Debussy Sonata is alluring and raptly intense, penetrating the elusive qualities of the score. Shafran’s rich tonal palette is particularly suited to the music. The pizzicato interjections are dazzling. His phrasing seems so natural, unforced and spontaneous, and he takes scrupulous care over Debussy's detailed dynamic markings. There's not a great deal of interpretative divergence between this version and the studio recording he made eleven years later with Anton Ginsburg, save perhaps a slightly more spacious view in 1970. The Shostakovich Sonata Op. 40 was set down on four occasions in the studio by this cellist, the first time on 12 November 1946 with the composer himself at the piano. This 1959 performance highlights the melodic richness of the score. The third movement, the emotional centre of the work, is intense and bleak with an all-pervading sense of darkness. The the finale's sardonic character is captured to the full. Bohle's spiky rhythmic audacity adds that extra touch of spice. The Granados encore is the icing on the cake.

The booklet notes include an interview with Vera Shafran, the cellist’s wife. These are attractive and highly individual interpretations.

Stephen Greenbank
Previous review: Jonathan Woolf



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