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Tchaikovsky, Ravel, Chopin / Tetiana Shafran
Steinway & Sons
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky , Frédéric Chopin , Maurice Ravel
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Works on Recording
Notes and Reviews
Young Ukrainian pianist Tetiana Shafran is a prize winner of over 20 international piano competitions, including First Prize at the 2019 Olga Kern Competition. For her debut album on the Steinway & Sons label, she performs a beguiling program of music by Chopin, Ravel, and Tchaikovsky.
Recorded November 8-9, 2021 at Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia
Producer: Dan Merceruio
Engineer: Joshua Frey
Mixing and Mastering: Daniel Shores
Executive Producers: Eric Feidner, Jon Feidner
Art Direction: Jackie Fugere
Design: Cover to Cover Design, Anilda Carrasquillo
Production Assistant: Renée Oakford
Piano Technician: John
Piano: Steinway Model D #590904 (New York)
R E V I E W S:
Tetiana Shafran is on the verge of a remarkable career. The Kiev, Ukraine native began studying piano at the age of 3 and later Graduated from the Lysenko Special Music School and the Tchaikovsky National Music Academy of Ukraine. Her teachers have included, among others, the celebrated pianist and professor Oxana Yablonskaya.
So much for credentials. You can get the feeling that all concert pianists have impressive resumés. What really distinguishes Shafran as a performing artist is her penchant for exploring the darkness of a mysterious and harmonically rich piece of music and uncovering the essential pearl lurking within its depths.
That observation is actually more relevant to the Chopin and Ravel works she performs here than it is to the curtain-raiser, Peter Illytch Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Sleeping Beauty, heard in Mikhail Pletnev’s solo piano arrangement. We have here a Prologue and ten excerpts from the ballet, including Dance of the Pages, Vision, Andante, The Silver Fairy, Puss-in-Boots and the White Cat, Gavotte, The Singing Canary, Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, Adagio, and Finale. Besides being very entertaining, ths piano suite allows us to hear the harmonic structure of the music, including the dancers’foot-falls, better than we can in Tchaikovsky’s own lush orchestrations, though I do miss the vibrant richness of the strings in the famous Adagio, in many ways the climax of the ballet.
Chopin’s Rondo in E-flat Major, Op. 16, comes across as an exploratory work. Amazingly under-performed by pianists, probably because of its tension between melody and accompaniment, it holds no apparent mysteries for Tetiana Shafran.
Finally, Maurice Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit requires, and here receives, a subtle balance of color, virtuosity and controlled discipline. The title itself means “spoiler of the night,” in other words a nightmare. That is clear enough in the three tabeaux: Ondine (a water nymph: for mortal man to woo her he must face peril in her own element), Le Gibet (a condened man waits in gnawing torture for the zero hour to arrive), and Scarbo, a maleficent demon, a shape-shifting wraith learing at his victims. Tetiana puts across this formidable work with all the composure and style that it demands.
-- Audio Video Club of Atlanta
Let it be stipulated that there is a never-ending supply of wonderful piano music out there, some familiar and worth hearing/interpreting again and again, some unfamiliar and well worth the acquaintance. Let it be further stipulated that there appears to be a never-ending supply of absolutely first-rate pianists waiting to deliver the music to audiences – pianists with fine technique, interpretative skill, insightful approaches, and welcome confidence in projecting their readings for audiences to enjoy and think about. What is interesting is the combinatorial aspect of these stipulations: many new recordings eschew standard pairings or combinations of works, avoid traditional arrangements such as chronological sequences, and invite audiences to journey with performers into their personal views not only of interpretation but also of the way otherwise unrelated pieces can fit together to produce a satisfying recital. The personalization has obvious benefits in giving audiences insight beyond the norm; it also has obvious limitations in requiring audiences to accept and appreciate the juxtapositions of works from different times, different aesthetics, different structures, in the same way the performers do. Without this sameness of interest and orientation, the personalization of performance falls a bit flat.
Two new and very fine Steinway & Sons recordings show different aspects of a personal approach to piano recitals. Tetiana Shafran offers two extended suites of differing sensibilities, separated by a single work from an earlier time – and all three pieces are ones that listeners will likely find familiar, although not in this specific combination. The Mikhail Pletnev arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty is a charmer, created knowingly and often cleverly by a pianist/conductor with a fine sense of the ways in which a piano reduction of an opulent score can (and cannot) hope to reproduce the effects of a fully orchestrated ballet. The contrasts between chordal passages and runs are handled particularly well by Shafran, who tends perhaps to overuse the sustaining pedal from time to time in the piano’s lower range – but who, for that very reason, offers exceptionally effective distinction between the heavily dramatic and lightly lyrical elements of the score. Shafran is actually at her best in the more-delicate portions of the music, with a sure sense of the rhythm and an effective way of maintaining the sense of a ballet while also allowing Pletnev’s strictly pianistic touches to come through to good effect. Next on the CD, as a sort of palate cleanser, is Chopin’s Rondo in E-flat, Op. 16, in which Shafran is particularly good at contrasting the lighter upper-register elements with the more-emphatic ones lower on the keyboard. If there is a criticism here, it is that the performance is a touch episodic – the “building blocks” of the work are quite clear, but some listeners will likely prefer a stronger sense of straight-through flow. And then there is Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit, one of the most-often-played showpieces from its time period and one whose opening Ondine is ideally suited to Shafran’s style and sensitivity to nuance. The genuinely spooky elements of Le Gibet are less effective here, although Shafran’s willingness to play sections of this tone painting very quietly does a good deal to increase its atmospheric power. The opening of Scarbo is quite effective as well, with the rests producing a strong sense of anticipation. Shafran negotiates the stop-and-start elements of the score and its constantly flickering quality with understanding and apparent ease, although the totality lacks a certain demonic quality to show that the sprite is something less than innocently mischievous. Still, the pianism here and throughout the CD is first-rate, and for listeners interested in this specific performer and this specific choice of repertoire, the disc has much to recommend it.
The young pianist Tetiana Shafran came with a host of big prizes but was little known to the public before being signed to the Steinway & Sons label, but she makes a convincing debut here. She has plenty of competition in the big virtuoso pieces she plays here, but most of it is male, and she blows away any concept of a distinctively female style. Fitting the golden-age pianism mission of the label is her version of Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty, transcribed for piano by Mikhail Pletnev. This transcription would have seemed normal in Tchaikovsky's time but is not so common nowadays. Sample the third track, "Vision," for a demonstration of Shafran's crystalline playing. The other two pieces, the Rondo in E flat major, Op. 16, of Chopin and Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit, are common enough, but Shafran brings to them a rare combination of clarity and power. Consider the "Scarbo" finale as well; it seems as though every conservatory graduate plays this piece these days, but the uncanny edge of Shafran's repeated notes is not so common. Steinway contributes excellent sound from the Sono Luminus studios on a recording that clearly marks Shafran as a young player to watch.
-- AllMusic Guide
When pianists place an impossibly high bar for themselves, as the gifted young Ukrainian Tetiana Shafran has done in her debut solo album, I am bound to be extra sympathetic, but there are no worries about her qualifications—Shafran’s artist’s bio tells us that she has won prizes in more than 20 international competitions, including first prize at the 2019 Olga Kern Competition.
Mikhail Pletnev’s ingenious Sleeping Beauty transcription consists of 11 numbers lasting half an hour. It requires virtuosity because as many orchestral lines are included as possible. In his own recording (Virgin) we gather what else is required for a successful performance, namely finesse and the ability to create the illusion of hearing instrumental color. Shafran has a knack for the latter—the high-lying scale passages sound like flute and piccolo. She is adroit at delineating voices and keeping textures clear, and where drama is called for, she’s not afraid to rattle the floorboards. All of this is revealed in the Prologue, and from there onwards the performance is as thrilling and sensitive as the score demands.
There’s a Prokofiev-like piquancy to the “Dance of the Pages” that comes through quite nicely in Shafran’s hands. The rapid-fire staccato in “Vision” is very even, and she eagerly leans into the pace to underscore her confidence. Finding even small criticisms is a reach. In the Golden Age when transcriptions were bread-and-butter repertoire, pianists took liberties with rubato to an extent not tolerated today. Shafran allows for flexibility in the rhythmic pulse but not to excess, and I appreciate that her phrasing is balletic and never stiff.
Besides being the creator of this arrangement, Pletnev is among the greatest living pianists, so his recording is a must-listen, but Shafran is totally admirable. Likewise, it is all but impossible to surpass Martha Argerich in Gaspard de la nuit. Ravel intentionally structured the suite, in the footsteps of Balakirev’s Islamey, to be the most difficult piano piece ever devised. Shafran’s ease in the rippling passagework of “Ondine” reveals an impressive technical assurance, and she is equally impressive at coordinating the right and left hands when each is so demanding on its own.
The trick in a great performance is to make the music seem effortless, which Shafran comes close to. “Le gibet,” like Liszt’s “La campanella,” repeats an isolated distant bell. Shafran makes sure that the tolling bell doesn’t interrupt the flow of the music—ideally it should sound completely independent, almost like adding a third hand. My only reservation here is that I’d like to hear a greater sense of eeriness and loneliness.
“Scarbo” is the ultimate test, since the performer’s aim is to create a mischievous goblin while remaining at ease in the most demanding fingerwork. This movement is where Ravel explicitly wanted to surpass Balakirev. Shafran is technically at her most scintillating here, and I don’t want to take anything away from her. One should never cease to be amazed at how today’s young pianists venture into such forbidding territory without being daunted. But the characterization of Scarbo is a little overshadowed by the diabolical effort of getting all the notes in. The insertion of Chopin’s early and rarely encountered Rondo in E flat foreshadows some of Ravel’s gestures in Gaspard. Shafran’s reading is poetic, while the piece’s considerable technical demands are well achieved.
My reaction to this recital is wholly positive. Here is a gifted pianist with remarkable technical resources at her fingertips and musical instincts that directly communicate with the listener. Warmly recommended.
-- Huntley Dent, Fanfare
Tetiana Shafran, born in Kyiv, Ukraine, studied at the Tchaikovsky National Music Academy of Ukraine, and the Oxana Yablonskaya Piano Academy (USA/Israel). The bio included in her new Steinway & Sons recital album offers an extensive list of international competition prizes and appearances in concert halls throughout the world. In many ways, this is a most impressive recital. All of the featured works are virtuoso showpieces, and Shafran’s impressive technique and musicality do them, for the better part, full justice. The Tchaikovsky and Chopin works are the most gratifying. Shafran performs Mikhail Pletnev’s transcription of excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s ballet Sleeping Beauty. Shafran not only surmounts the various technical demands with ease; she plays with a sense of freedom and joy, and a remarkable range of instrumental colors. This is, in every sense, true virtuoso playing. The same is true for the Chopin Rondo in E flat, op. 16. Shafran revels in Chopin’s dance rhythms, giving them an infectious and irresistible lilt. And as in the Tchaikovsky, the brilliance in fleet passagework is undeniable. In both works, Shafran is not afraid to test the limits of her Steinway Model D, and the effect, beautifully reproduced in this recording, is stunning.
I’m less convinced by the Ravel Gaspard de la nuit. Gaspard is one of the most fiendishly difficult piano works. The difficulty is twofold. First, of course, are the technical demands that border on the superhuman. Shafran is equal to that task, playing Ravel’s fiendish music with accuracy and clarity, no small feat. But there are also interpretive considerations. Gaspard is a collection of three tone poems, inspired by the writings of Aloysius Bertrand. The pianist must inhabit the worlds of the water nymph “Ondine,” “Le gibet” (the gibbet), and the goblin “Scarbo.” And the interpreter must achieve this with a fluidity and lightness of touch that embody the work’s Impressionist aesthetic. Shafran’s broad tempos and forceful approach strike me as a departure from the ideal. The great French pianist and Ravel interpreter Robert Casadesus conferred with the composer about the interpretation of his works. According to Casadesus’s wife, Gaby Casadesus, Ravel wanted pianists to avoid “breakneck speed” when playing Gaspard’s “Le gibet”: “[A]t such speeds, the pianist becomes merely a wind-up toy—a pity since the work is a sublime masterpiece.” In his classic 1951 Columbia recording, Casadesus plays “Scarbo” in 9:14. Shafran plays that same work in 10:24. It is possible, of course, to maintain the narrative flow and momentum at broad tempos. But neither Shafran’s choice of tempos nor her articulation of the music of Gaspard de la nuit convinces, in contrast to her masterful renditions of the Tchaikovsky and Chopin. But overall, this is a most impressive recital by a gifted pianist. I look forward to hearing more of Tetiana Shafran. Recommended.
-- Ken Meltzer, Fanfare
For her debut album, pianist Tetiana Shafran performs selections from Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Sleeping Beauty. The general plot of Tchaikovsky’s ballet (a plot similar to the Disney classic animated movie, which also borrows some themes and music from Tchaikovsky’s ballet), includes fairies both wicked and good, lazy guest-list attendants, an unfortunately cursed baby princess, lots of sleep, and of course, good triumphing over evil. (I could chat all day about the sexual innuendos of girls pricking their fingers on spindle needles, but I’ll refrain.) Tchaikovsky’s ballet also includes several other fairy tale characters (a fun ballet cross-over) such as Little Red Riding Hood, the Wolf, Puss-in-Boots, and others. In fact, the piece for “Puss in Boots and the White Cat” is one of the tunes adapted for the Disney movie (the part where Aurora is tempted by Malificent to touch the spindle). Of the selection of pieces for this album, my favorite is most definitely the Adagio, which occurs later in the ballet. This arrangement of the Adagio for solo piano is so lovely, moving from simple and Romantic to magnificently expansive. The Adagio’s seemingly simple opening theme transforms into a big and bold expression of love (perhaps) but maybe also of innocence lost (which is more often than not the theme of fairy tales). Shafran’s performance of these arrangements is bright and energetic—she has a grand sound and such a presence over the instrument. Sadly the arrangement does not offer much of a dramatic narrative arc for the listener and feels instead more like selections from a much longer (nearly three-hour long) score. Overall, however, these opening 11 tracks definitely showcase Shafran’s range and capacity for expressing Tchaikovsky’s grand gestures as well as the quiet, nearly silent moments when the dance seems to overtake the music.
Shafran imbues the same youthful energy and exuberance that she brought to the Tchaikovsky in her positively joyful performance of Chopin’s Rondo in E flat. It is also a kind of dance piece, especially with the recurring theme and structure and the incredible speed of the notes, as heard in the latter part of the piece. Shafran’s articulation is so clean and concise. This is not easy repertoire, but she makes her performance seem effortless. Juggling the Rondo’s playfulness, syncopation, and bright fluctuations of the dynamics, Shafran never sounds so overbearing or too playful that she misses the tone Chopin wants to strike here.
Gaspard de la nuit is also centered on fairytales, or poems and poetic images set to music. Full of quiet, magical moments—soft notes, lyrical melodies—these pieces are noted for their difficulty, but also for their expansive beauty. Shafran’s fingers seem to glide as she plays “Ondine,” as she allows the sound to ripple out of the instrument; in “Le gibet,” Shafran confronts us with a kind of clock, a pulsing note that introduces another side of Ravel’s piano; and in “Scarbo” that pulse changes, faster and more immediate, and morphs again into a frenetic narrative that sweeps up and down the keyboard. Shafran handles all these characters, all these narratives—plus all the keyboard acrobatics and rhythm structures and sheer number of notes—with deft execution and the kind of articulation that honors the brave modernity of this set of works. Shafran’s performance of “Scarbo” is succinct, poignant, technically precise, and—like all her work on this debut—luminous.
-- Jacqueline Kharouf, Fanfare
Tetiana Shafran, born in Kyiv, is making her Steinway debut here with an impressive recital. She was the first place gold medal winner in the 2019 Olga Kern International Competition, and has earned prizes in about 25 others. She graduated from the Lysenko Special Music School and the Tchaikovsky National Music Academy of Ukraine in 2012 and continued her studies with Oxana Yablonskaya 2015–17. Her concert history shows a pianist heard all over the world from Ukraine to Switzerland, across Europe and the USA, Brazil, China, and Australia. I watched several videos of her playing online and saw someone with a huge technique and true Romantic spirit (her Rachmaninoff Third Concerto was top-notch). Her selections here offer us an opportunity to hear her in both well-known and unusual repertoire.
The first half of this program is devoted to Mikhail Pletnev’s solo piano arrangement of 11 scenes from Sleeping Beauty: “Prologue,” “Dance of the Pages,” “Vision,” Andante, “The Silver Fairy,” “Puss-in-Boots,” Gavotte, “The Singing Canary,” “Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf,” Adagio, and Finale. Tchaikovsky’s great, almost three-hour ballet has been arranged for solo piano in its entirety by Alexander Siloti and for piano duet by a young Rachmaninoff. Mikhail Pletnev has been one of the top pianists (and conductors) for decades since he won the Sixth Tchaikovsky Competition in 1978. He has composed and arranged a significant amount of music as well. This is his published Concert Suite, which I was able to track down online. The piano writing is clearly for a virtuoso pianist and is quite demanding, on the order of Liszt’s orchestral transcriptions. It poses no problems for Shafran, who thunders the orchestral climaxes over the entire range of the piano but also uses the quiet sections to display her wonderful legato playing in all of those beautiful Tchaikovsky melodies.
Shafran’s website provides a number of concert programs and images of a concert posters going back several years. Chopin’s early Rondo in E flat has been in her concert repertoire for the past couple of years and she plays it effortlessly. There are a lot of notes and tricky figurations here that are played in the perfect Chopin style with slight touches of rubato and a minimum of pedal. There is also an elegance in her pianism that repays repeated hearings. Her dynamic range all through this program is noteworthy.
Ravel’s virtuoso masterpiece, Gaspard de la nuit, ends the disc in fine fashion. At the time I first encountered this work, it was considered one of the most difficult pieces in the piano repertoire. Nowadays I hear it played in concert every season (Trifonov played it last December at Carnegie Hall). It is also recorded quite often, since a lot of young pianists use it to prove their technical abilities. Again, this has been in Shafran’s repertoire for a number of years and is a mature, well-thought-out interpretation. I knew from the first page that she was far beyond proving her technical abilities. The very soft (ppp) repeated chord patterns that evoke the water in which “Ondine” resides set the right mood for one of Ravel’s most beautiful melodies, which weaves its way under, over and within the chord pattern. The B flat octave ostinato rings throughout “Le gibet,” always present, but in the distance like the hanging corpse it represents. Shafran lets the harmonies and melodies go their own way. The nighttime antics of a goblin make for an episodic nature in “Scarbo”. Ravel wrote, “I wanted to make a caricature of Romanticism. Perhaps it got the better of me.” Shafran makes each appearance of “Scarbo” an impetuous little glimpse. I find it hard to criticize a performance this good, but the breaks between sections seemed a little too long at times, breaking the momentum of the piece. She took her time in the central sections, perhaps playing to Ravel’s caricature. There are two similar climaxes in the movement, and Shafran makes a much larger ritard into the first one. I liked the second one better when she kept the forward movement going.
It is always great to hear a young pianist who appears to be making it in the performance world. Shafran has a lot to offer, and the Sono Luminus recording studio has captured her piano sound with its customary excellence. This disc from Steinway is an excellent way to get to know her.
-- James Harrington, Fanfare
Biographies with laundry lists usually spell trouble. Shafran’s lists 9 concert halls where she has played and 6 out of the “almost 25” competitions she’s entered. True, she was first-prize winner in the Olga Kern Competition in 2019, but it turns out that at some of the others she won “a prize”, which can mean anything. What does count is that here she shapes a rarely heard work by Chopin, his Rondo in E-flat, Op. 16, into a highly liquid waltz-like 10 minutes with a wide range of expression, tone colors, and a rubato that never kills the continuity.
Her Chopin follows the album’s lead work, Mikhail Pletnev’s piano souvenir of 11 excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty. In the Prologue it becomes quickly clear that Shafran, 34, has bitten off more than she can chew. She immediately has trouble articulating rapid arpeggios and can’t project important figures. In the slow theme that follows, she then turns each phrase into a pool of rubato. “Get on with it!” I exclaimed more than once. She creates little tone color and even less drama. Poor Puss-’n-Boots is a cat without quicksilver, and `Little Red Riding Hood’ is a tale chopped into too many segments (that rubato devil again). Also, she loves the pedal, rarely clearing the palette.
Pletnev’s Sleeping Beauty arrangement is a showpiece—a tour de force for piano, as he himself displayed in a Virgin recording in 1989, a breathtaking display not only of technique but artistry and musicality. One would also be hardpressed to find a more challenging piano work by Ravel than Gaspard de la Nuit. In "Ondine" Shafran drowns the water nymph with more excessive pedaling. Hers is a liquid flow of pretty notes, but in the final surge she plows through the harmonic shifts instead of using Ravel’s haunting timbres to create atmosphere. In "The Gibbet" Shafran again comes up short on the poetic aspect simply because she doesn’t clear the palette. For example, why she holds the pedal as the melody slowly slides to a conclusion from “re” to “doh” is a mystery to me. What a surprise, then, when she plays the concluding `Scarbo’, the “now you see him, now you don’t” sprite, with terrific dexterity at an exciting pace, contrasting his various aspects strongly with harmonic shift and wide-ranging expression. No pedaling problems here!
Chalk the Tchaikovsky and Ravel up to repertoire for Shafran that are still works in progress.
-- American Record Guide
Sleeping Beauty, Op. 66
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Tetiana Shafran (Piano)
Date of Recording:
Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia
30 Minutes 56 Secs.
Rondo in E flat major, Op. 16
Tetiana Shafran (Piano)
Date of Recording:
Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia
10 Minutes 41 Secs.
Gaspard de la nuit
Tetiana Shafran (Piano)
Date of Recording:
Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia
24 Minutes 40 Secs.
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