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Like his contemporary Rostropovich, Daniil Shafran was a musician in the Romantic mould, admired by many for his huge tonal palette and his prioritisation of emotional artistry over all else. His parents were both musicians. His father Boris, principal cellist of the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, was determined his son would either become a professional musician or not bother at all: hence, Daniil’s training regime was extremely strict and thorough. His ten years with Alexander Shtrimer at the Leningrad Conservatory gave him a holistic view of musical interpretation and performance. Shtrimer saw music as inseparable from art and nature, encouraging an understanding of colour, shape and emotion in musical expression, and Shafran perpetuated these values in his own teaching. He disapproved of much modern pedagogy, commenting: ‘I think many teachers today are obsessed with technical perfection and because they are not themselves aware of the importance of the emotional aspect of playing, they are unable to pass it on.’

World War II interrupted Shafran’s professional progress, and after it his career was characterised to some extent by ‘shadowing’ Rostropovich, with whom he tied in two competitions. Nonetheless, his international profile grew respectably and foreign audiences were reported to have been bewitched by his emotive interpretations and unexpected risk taking. Shafran’s technique involved an astonishing mastery of the upper reaches of the instrument, flexible and at times unconventional fingerings, and a great variety in his use of vibrato. His 1630 Amati cello, won at the 1937 All-Union Competition and the only instrument he used throughout his playing career, was slightly smaller than the normal full size. His widow Svetlana donated it to the Glinka Museum of Musical Culture.

As these recordings show, Shafran is easily Rostropovich’s equal in performance and in some respects his superior. There is a control and even delicacy in his playing that is not always found with Rostropovich; like him, though, Shafran on record immediately exudes greatness in performances that are vivid and (as with many players of the USSR) speak with remarkable communicative directness. He is undoubtedly at his most comfortable in Romantic repertoire; thus, the Piatigorsky-Haydn work (recorded in 1957) seems an outmoded conception now, both in terms of the arrangement and Shafran’s interpretation. There is a rather tight tone with constant vibrato and a mainly legato shape that overrides many of Haydn’s small-scale phrasing subtleties. This is, of course, exactly the kind of stylistic anachronism that has impelled the current trend towards more consciously historical playing in recent years.

From the very first notes of the Rachmaninov Sonata (1956) Shafran creates an enthralling experience; there is an old-fashioned heroic element here, and his readiness to use portamento within a clean and mature tone in all registers brings forth the warm, self-indulgent elements of this relatively youthful work. The Schumann Concerto (1957) has similar appeal under the inspiring direction of Kondrashin and here Shafran’s virtuosity, with some highly accomplished staccato playing interlaced with cantabile lines, is shown in good light. A fine example of his speciality—encores and character miniatures—is Falla’s ‘Ritual Fire Dance’ (1957), where percussive attack, upper-register brilliance and unassailable technique combine apparently effortlessly. Last, but not least, Shafran’s 1946 Shostakovich Cello Sonata throws his organic, flexible approach into relief against the composer’s comparatively literal pianism, creating a more fluid whole than Shostakovich’s other famous recording with Rostropovich.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)

Role: Classical Artist 
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