Daniil Shafran: The unsung hero

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The Soviet cellist Daniil Shafran was a unique performer with a highly individual technique and sense of interpretation. He deserves to be recognised as one of the 20th century’s great instrumentalists, writes Oskar Falta

The Russian cellist Daniil Shafran, one of the greatest musicians of the Soviet era, was born in 1923 to Russian-Jewish parents in Petrograd (soon after renamed Leningrad, today’s St Petersburg). At the age of eight, he started cello lessons with his father, Boris, who became principal cellist of the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO) under Yevgeny Mravinsky. Two years later, Shafran was accepted into the class of professor Alexander Shtrimer (1888–1961) at the Leningrad Conservatoire.

Shafran made his debut in 1935 with the LPO under Albert Coates and two years later received the first prize at the USSR All-Union Competition for violinists and cellists held in Moscow. This victory led to Shafran’s first recording engagement the same year: Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations with the LPO conducted by Alexander Gauk. During the Second World War, as the front was approaching Leningrad, several of its cultural institutions were evacuated to safer regions of the USSR: the conservatoire to Tashkent (Uzbekistan), and the Philharmonic Orchestra – along with Shafran’s parents – to Novosibirsk. Shafran first stayed behind and became a volunteer in the People’s Militia. As the infamous Siege of Leningrad intensified, he left the city and joined his parents in Novosibirsk. There, he appeared several times as soloist with the exiled LPO under the direction of Mravinsky and Kurt Sanderling, and gave concerts in hospitals and for soldiers of the Red Army…

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