For their latest CD release, called Troika, cellist Matt Haimovitz and pianist Christopher O’Riley knew they wanted to include the sonatas of Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and Rachmaninoff. They included shorter works by each, plus a few more contemporary examples of music commenting on, and in defiance of the Soviet and Russian political establishment, including the Beatles’ “Back in the USSR,” and Pussy Riot’s “Punk Prayer.”
There’s more information about the disc at the Pentatone website.
Even though Russia is much in the headlines these days, this is a recording project that Haimovitz and O’Riley wanted to undertake for several years. “This is really a reflection of not just current events, but I think it’s fair to say that Troika straddles three generations of Russian music in exile and protest,” O’Riley says. Although the most recent selection, “Punk Prayer” has the subtitle (Virgin Mary, Put Putin Away). “The Pussy Riot song that we recorded resulted in their imprisonment, and subsequent death of one of their members. So this is stuff that’s been going on for a long time.” Haimovitz felt their music was one of the best examples of art in the face of oppression in recent times, and wanted to include one of their songs. “It was very difficult to find something that would translate for cello and piano, because the music is not that lyrical. So, when I came across “Punk Prayer,” I thought, “OK, this works very well, because it has that beautiful Russian Orthodox hymn that runs through it.” They also include “Kukushka,” (or Cuckoo) by singer songwriter Viktor Tsoi, a new-found favorite of Haimovitz’s young daughter. “She was mesmerized by this tune, and I could see why, it’s a beautiful, beautiful tune. He’s sort of the Leonard Cohen of Russian singer-songwriters.”