Danill Shafran was one of the greatest cellists of the 20th century. Not nearly as well known outside the USSR as his contemporary Mstislav Rostropovich, many cellists consider him to have been Slava’s equal or even superior in terms of cello playing. He wasn’t the sort of multifaceted genius as Rostropovich, who was a virtuoso pianist, had a photographic memory, and enthusiastically conducted orchestras.
I met Shafran twice. Where Rostropovich was warm and outgoing, hugging everyone it sight, Shafran was more neurotic, fearful, and careful. I hear (or project) the same difference in their playing. Shafran’s recording are amazing in their technical command, but often strike me as hyper-intense and quirky-and-even-bizzzare at times, especialy in the use of vibrato. Rostropovich’s sound, especially on recordings is lush and enveloping. Shafran’s comes at you like a laser beam.
What prompts these musings is last night’s discovery of a recording of Shafran playing the Prokofiev Sinfonia Concertante, Op. 125, on Itunes (it’s listed as the “Concerto in E minor, Op. 125” the piece is a reworking of that earlier piece). $3.95 to download, and it is extraordinary. Awe-inspiring to this cellist. The live performance is fast-paced and driving, enormously different from Rostropovich’s studio recording with Malcom Sargent, which I also purchased. The two recordings, each by someone who worked closely with Prokofiev, are as different as night and day.
If you’re a cellist, you’ve surely heard many Rostropovich recordings. Download this Shafran Prokoviev–you’ll be in for a treat.