Tatjana Masurenko / Roglit Ishay

White Nights: Viola Music from St. Petersburg, Vol. 1

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Not all of the music here is the promised "viola music from St. Petersburg"; most of it is originally arranged from works for other instruments or from operatic selections. The "Russian Song" of Igor Stravinsky, from the 1922 opera Mavra, was originally an aria and is better known in a cello-and-piano arrangement made for Mstislav Rostropovich. But the other half of this album's concept, the suggestion of a "St. Petersburg school" lasting a century or more like the particular traits associated with the music of Vienna, is very productive. The common thread in these works is an enduringly rich lode of gorgeous cantabile melody, spiced once in a while by a sardonic humor that the viola arrangement seems to intensify. The humor comes to the fore in the viola-and-piano arrangements of Shostakovich's preludes, but give a listen to the Andante (track 9) of Glinka's incomplete and little-known Sonata in D minor for viola and piano. You'll wonder why you never heard it before. The wistful lyrical strain keeps up through much of the rest of the album, even with Stravinsky, who is not known for this mood. Violist Tatjana Masurenko is an exceptionally affecting player, and she's ably backed by the crack engineering team from the Profil label, working in a Deutschlandfunk studio in Cologne. Musicians and engineers manage the tricky balance between viola and piano in an exemplary way. Recommended for anyone feeling the need for an hour of great minor-key tunes.

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