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Daniil Shafran (cello)
Concert Tours in Germany
rec. 1957-1973
MELOCLASSIC MC3015 [65:27 + 73:27]

This is the second volume of Daniil Shafran’s live airings emanating from the Meloclassic stable that I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing. As in the previous single volume (review), this 2 CD set features recordings sourced from German radio. The cellist has become something of a cult figure amongst fellow players 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 in 1923 — 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. 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 a 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 contemporary Soviet artists. That said, he did make the occasional tour of Europe, USA and Japan. He recorded mainly for Melodiya, noted then for its poor LP pressings and limited distribution. He died in 1997.

Four works make up the 1973 recital with pianist Anton Ginsburg. A pupil of Heinrich Neuhaus, Ginsburg (1930-2002) made his name primarily as an ensemble musician. He performed frequently with Shafran, and the two recorded the complete Beethoven Cello Sonatas for Melodiya the same year this concert broadcast was made. The César Franck is a transcription of the violin sonata. The composer assigned a fundamental role to the piano in this work and Ginsburg steps up to the plate admirably with some compelling pianism. The version explores the cello’s darker sonorities, and Shafran eloquently sculpts the work’s long melodic lines with poetic imagination. The Cello Sonata in C, Op 119 by Prokofiev was premiered by Mstislav Rostropovich and Sviatoslav Richter on 1 March 1950. Accusations of formalism by the Soviet authorities form an ominous backdrop. Yet it never skimps on melody and lyricism despite its dissonant and dark-toned character. Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne from 1933 is heard in an arrangement by Gregor Piatigorsky. The work is a vamped up version of Pergolesi’s music, reworking material from the ballet Pulcinella. The six attractive movements are an amalgam of baroque elegance and the angular rhythmic patterns of the neo-classical style. Rhythms are kept light and buoyant throughout with an emphasis of freshness and spontaneity. Both Shafran and Ginburg are well-recorded, with instrumental balance as it should be. Britten’s Sonata for Cello and Piano in C major, Op 65 (1960-61) was the fruit of his creative relationship with Mstislav Rostropovich. The two had first met in September 1960 and the work was composed shortly after. It consists of five movements. It opens calmly and sedately, and a Scherzo follows with a playful interplay between the cello’s pizzicatos and the piano. The captivating Elegia gives the listener time to ponder and reflect, Shafran and Ginsburg gently transporting us to another world. There’s a march, followed by a moto perpetuo finale, which is sparkling and effervescent and dispatched with panache.

The remainder of the set is devoted to two concertos, namely the Dvořák and the Kabalevsky, set down in 1957 and 1963 respectively. The Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra features in both, but with different conductors. I must have heard hundreds of performances of the Dvořák, but this one is very special indeed. The conductor is Carl von Garaguly, who takes a spacious view of the opening tutti of the first movement, pointing up the lyrical elements of the score. Shafran responds accordingly, with rapturous playing in the more poetic sojourns and zest and sparkle in the virtuosic moments. In the central slow movement, great care is taken not to over-gild the lily; the music is left to speak for itself.

Dmitri Kabalevsky composed two cello concertos. The first one dates from 1949. It blends wistful longing with joyous contentment. It’s no wonder the composer was a hit with the Soviets. His music is tonally pleasing and conforms to convention. The slow movement is the emotional heart of the work, and is elegiac and nostalgic in character. Shafran is fortunate to be partnered by the composer himself in this riveting performance, laced with fantasy and flow.

The recordings have been expertly restored and make a fine addition to the Shafran discography. Michael Waiblinger’s excellent notes include a personal recollection from the artist’s step-daughter Vera Guseva.

Stephen Greenbank

CD 1 [65:27]

FRANCK: Violin Sonata in A major, M 8 (Arr. by Jules Delsar)
Cello Sonata in C major, Op 119
STRAVINSKY: Suite Italienne (Arr. by Gregor Piatigorsky)
Daniil Shafran ∙ cello
Anton Ginsburg ∙ piano
Recorded ˇ 24 May 1973 ˇ Schwetzingen ˇ Schloss ˇ SDR ˇ Live Recording

CD 2 [73:27]

BRITTEN: Cello Sonata in C major, Op 65
Daniil Shafran ∙ cello
Anton Ginsburg ∙ piano
Recorded ˇ 24 May 1973 ˇ Schwetzingen ˇ Schloss ˇ SDR ˇ Live Recording

DVORAK: Cello Concerto in B minor, Op 104, B 191
Daniil Shafran ∙ cello
Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester Berlin
Carl von Garaguly ∙ conductor
Recorded ˇ 10 November 1957 ˇ East Berlin ˇ Nalepastraße ˇ Radio GDR ˇ Radio Studio Recording

KABALEVSKY: Cello Concerto No 1 in G minor, Op 49
Daniil Shafran ∙ cello
Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester Berlin
Dmitry Kabalevsky ∙ conductor
Recorded ˇ 16 March 1963 ˇ East Berlin ˇ Nalepastraße ˇ Radio GDR ˇ Radio Studio Recording

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