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SEVEN encores took this rare recital by Daniil Shafran to well over two-and-a-half hours, but scarcely anybody in the audience moved until the very end. Shafran is a legend. Now in his seventies, he has long been admired for the aristocratic poise of his cello-playing, and for a tone of deep, mellow intensity. In approach he remains one more of the French school than of his native Russian. But essentially he is an individualist.
One distraction is the fact that Shafran taps loudly with his foot, but, in a player who has his own distinct ideas about rhythm and tempo, that is perhaps a necessary metronomic aid. He was liberal in parts of the Brahms E minor Sonata, launching the final allegro, in particular, at an over-optimistic pace which had to be pulled back; and he was unconstrained in the melodic shaping of the Franck A major Sonata. His efficient accompanist, Anton Ginzburg, moulded his own performance to Shafran's and, from time to time, reined things in.
However perplexing some aspects of this recital were, the enduring impressions were of passion and vital musical instinct. Shafran exudes spontaneity while maintaining the demeanour of detachment. It is an odd amalgam, but it works in a piece like the Shostakovich Viola Sonata, which Shafran had arranged for cello. This strange music, space and clouded by thoughts of death but with much in it that sounds contrived and too quickly put down on paper, benefited from Shafran's poignant shading - even if dynamics, here as elsewhere, were not always faithfully observed.
If it was the alluring tone and communicative confidence which made such an impact, then those qualities were combined in the encores with a wit and with loving phrasing. Debussy, Boccherini, Prokofiev and all sorts of composers made an appearance here in, presumably, Shafran's own arrangements. An unbuttoned Shafran suddenly seemed much more approachable and even more winning.
Geoffrey Norris - DAILY TELEGRAPH (27 April 1995)
Celebrities, connoisseurs and a plethora of cellist crowded the Wigmore Hall for Daniil Shafran's first UK recital in 30 years. A frequent prize-winner in his Russian homeland, Shafran made his debut in the early 1930s under Albert Coates. His records of Shostakovich (with the composer), Kabalevsky and Bach have inspired something of cult, while his greatest admirers - including Steven Isserlis, who lent his support to this recital - have helped perpetuate the legend.
Now in his early 70s, Shafran cuts a dignified stage profile, although he's not above playing to the gallery. The opening of Brahms's E minor Sonata paraded the fabled sensual tone: big, full and with a distinctive, typically Russian employment of vibrato. Shafran has a habit of either suspending vibrato altogether, greatly intensifying it or applying it gradually, rather like an old-world crooner. His sound sports violent dynamic extremes, dipping from vibrant overkill to mellow hum and with more concern for tone than for line. It's the sort of playing that we occasionally heard from the young Rostropovich, but while "Slava" has cooled to relative sobriety, Shafran retains his youthful, over-ripe personality.
But there's a price to be paid: nowadays his intonation tends to wander way off-centre. Shostakovich's Viola Sonata sounded almost like a quarter-tone transcription; and while Shafran brought a Klezmer-style play-fulness to the Allegretto and an elegiac warmth to the Adagio, the discolouration on certain notes was unacceptably distracting. A shame - because the "feeling" was right, the arrangement (Shafran's own) effective and pianist Anton Ginzburg gave a fine account of the keyboard part.
After the interval came the cello version of César Franck's Violin Sonata. This was an excessive as its predecessors, with copious tonal bulges, lashings of vibrato, theatrical pianissimos, approximate passage-work and an alarming cut in the last movement - or was it just a hasty page-turn? Still, the audience cheered and the grateful duo re-appeared for a delicious sequence of encores. "Now you really will hear something," said an informed colleague - and how right he was!
First came a tenderly muted Clair de Lune, then a version of Minstrels featuring quiter-like pizzicatos and much cheeky banter with Ginzburg. Other goodies included a playful Russian Dance by Rodion Shchedrin and Boccherini's ubiquitous Minuet. Best of all was a smoochy, seamless account of Ravel's smoky Piéce en forme de habañera, beautifully phrased and as tonally alluring as anything Shafran achieved 30 years ago. At last, everything fell into place: style and sound were gainfully employed and Shafran's oddball brand of interpretative eroticism added to, rather than detracted from, the nature of the music. Maybe next time we hear him it can be in pieces better chosen to reflect his strengths and respect his weaknesses.
Robert Cowan - INDEPENDENT (27 April 1995)