Monday, May 21, 2007

Shafran on Itunes

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.

In the top 50 (well, 53)

Scott Spiegelberg has made a list of the "top" 50 classical music blogs, as determined by numbers of links to each blog. This one made the list, in a three-way tie for 50th.

Now I see my AC Douglas and my old Tanglewood friend Roger Bourland made a different calculation in which this blog doesn't make the list. Humpf! I'll go with Scott. :)

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Even Curtis is Looking to Move Ahead

The need to reimagine and update the training of classical musicians is becoming so self-evident that most conservative of conservatories, the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia (where all the tuition is free, all the faculty are distinguished, and all the students are indeed above average) is moving towards including instruction in historically-informed performance and more emphasis on contemporary music.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Rostropovich the composer's champion

I just wrote a comment on Scott Spiegelberg's Rostropovich post, in which he makes some very interesting comments about Rostropovich's recordings of various Bach Suite movements.

My own favorite recording of "Slava" is that of the Lutoslawski Cello Concerto and the Dutillieux "Tout un monde lointain." As I noted in my comment on Scott's blog, both are pieces that would not have existed without Rostropovich, and the performances are extraordinary.

No one in the entire history of the cello has been a bigger force for expanding the repertoire. Rostropovich's embrace of all musical styles was an important factor. The most important cellist before him, Pablo Casals, hated atonal music and didn't play it. In his early career, Casals promoted the work of some of his romantic contemporaries, including the now forgotten Emanuel Moor, of whom Casals was a true champion. In his post-WW II life, Casals's repertoire as both cellist and conductor extended from Bach to Brahms. And once he settled in Puerto Rico and the Casals Festival was established, his Eurocentric perspective led to a virtually total dismissiveness towards Puerto Rican music, creating wounds in that culture which have yet to fully heal.

Gregor Piatigorsky was not as big a name as Casals, but he was a wealthy man, and he could perhaps have done more to commission new works. Piatigorsky did not sell out halls in the way that Casals and later Rostropovich did, and like Casals he was a Romantic who, while more open to atonal music, was not a great champion of it.

Rostropovich, though, had a universalist taste and had the clout to get the many pieces he commissioned and premiered performed and recorded. He probably quadrupled or qunitupled the cello repertoire. And that, 100 or 200 years from now, will turn out to have been his greatest legacy.

When is it OK to shake your booty?

A minor but interesting controversy in Edmonton. My stance has always been be yourself. If you need to move to make your best music, move. If you are in the audience and don't like to watch, shut your eyes. (Thanks to Bob at Cello Chat for pointing this out.)