Daniil Shafran Bach: Six Suites For Cello

review shafran cello x1 cong

This is a re-issue but still sounds great: Bach played by a perfectionist who believed in bringing out the emotion in music rather than worrying about the technical. Obviously, he had to be really good to do that.

Shafran was born in 1923, the son of the principal cellist of the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra; his dad bought him a small cello when he was eight. His father was serious about his music and a strict teacher, and not only taught his son how to play but the value of regular practice and aiming high — one element was learning to play beyond the demands of the work. Shafran would learn to play a piece at twice the written speed.

At 14, he entered the 1937 USSR All-Union competition for violinists and cellists; although he was below age, he was allowed to enter and won first prize.

In 1956, he made a “legendary recording” (says Wikipedia) of Shostakovich’s Cello Sonata, with the composer at the piano. He aimed to bring out the feelings in the music, which, given his mastery of technique, he was free to do.

Shafran was one of the first Soviet cellists to turn to Bach’s music, with the sleeve notes calling the six suites “the highest touchstone for any cellist”.

Shafran used to treat Bach’s cello suites as “instructive” music, but then heard the recordings of Pablo Casals, which “overthrew” his idea of the cello.

The complete suites for solo cello were performed by Shafran during the concert season of 1966 in Moscow, and these recordings were made after numerous concert performances.

Biography and explanation aside: this is a wonderful recording. While it’s slow and just the one instrument, Shafran’s playing makes the music warm and atmospheric. There are a few grand moments but it’s mostly calm. In places it suggests a performance in a lively salon but mostly it’s music to listen to in a comfy armchair with the lights low.

This is out on Melodiya, MEL 1002535.

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