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White Nights - Viola Music from Saint Petersburg, Vol. 2
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Selected pieces from the ballet Romeo and Juliet (1936) (arr. Vadim Borisovsky, 1961) [23:57]
Gennady BANSHCHIKOV (b. 1943)
Viola Sonata (1964, rev. 1992) [7:11]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Viola Sonata, Op. 147 (1975) [30:07]
Tatjana Masurenko (viola)
Roglit Ishay (piano)
rec. 3, 7 October 2012, Deutschlandfunk Kammermusiksaal Köln, Germany
HÄNSSLER PROFIL PH11070 [61:19] 

I haven’t yet heard the first volume in this Profil series but on the strength of the present release I fully intend to track it down.
The booklet notes claim that it was “the twentieth century that helped us understand the dark energy of the viola in new ways” with the final decades of the Soviet Union producing a crop of fine viola works. Masurenko who studied in St. Petersburg is rooted in the city’s string tradition, one that can trace its origins to Leopold Auer. Auer spent almost fifty years there and in turn traced his own reputation back to his teacher Joseph Joachim. 

Prokofiev studied at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory and a selection of music from his ballet Romeo and Juliet (1936) opens the disc. Despite some initial reservations I was highly delighted that this pared down arrangement preserves much of the passion and emotional thrust of the orchestral original. This is especially noticeable in the thrillingly played Montagues and Capulets (Dance of the Knights). Only in the third piece, Juliet as a Young Girl did the piano writing at times feel a touch laboured but Masurenko’s glorious viola melody shines out like a beacon.
Next comes the short single movement Viola Sonata by Russian composer Gennady Banshchikov. He taught at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory from the mid-1970s. Composed in 1964 and designed with contrasting sections Banshchikov revised it in 1992. Attentively played, this work uses twelve-tone rows yet remains eminently accessible. That said, I do not envisage playing if too often. 

The Shostakovich Viola Sonata was his last composition, completed just weeks before his death. Imbued with desolation and haunted by death this three movement score is characteristic of the composer’s final years. The music is full of tension and restlessness which the duo underline with a sense of danger bubbling away under the surface. Resolute and rhythmically percussive, the impressively played Scherzo feels sardonic. In the substantial Finale: Adagio the duo communicates a darkly intense and almost unbearable yearning.
Masurenko and Ishay prove impressive advocates for this Soviet-Russian chamber music for viola and piano. Playing with immediacy they vividly display a wide range of colours and timbres. I relished this splendid release and absolutely will make a point of listening to the first volume.  

Michael Cookson