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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Waltz No.2 [3.53]
Sonata for Cello and Piano in D minor Op.40 [28.58]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Troika (Lieutenant KijÚ) [3.03]
Sonata for Cello and Piano in C major Op.119 [23.17]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Sonata for Cello and Piano in G minor Op.19 [36.15]
Vocalise [6.12]
Viktor TSOI (1962-1990)
Kukushka [4.42]
Pussy Riot
Punk Prayer [2:51]
John LENNON (1940-1980) and Paul MCCARTNEY (b. 1942)
Back in the U.S.S.R. [3.08]
Matt Haimovitz (cello)
Christopher O'Riley (piano)
rec. 2016, Skywalker Sound, Lucas Valley, California
Reviewed in surround
PENTATONE PTC5186608 SACD [2 discs: 112.29]

Three Troikas, in the sense of a set of three, combine to make this two SACD set. Three great Russian Cello Sonatas, three short pieces from the same composers, one of them called Troika in another sense entirely, and cover versions of three protest songs from more modern times, two Russian and one closely linked to Russia. Clearly there is a point being made here and the lengthy introductory note by the cellist Matt Haimovitz explains what it is. For those whose focus is on the main music, there is another lengthy and separate note about those pieces. The notes, given the booklet size restrictions, are thus only in English.

There is very serious recorded competition for all three sonatas. In the case of the Shostakovich there is a recording of Shostakovich himself at the piano and the great Russian cellist Rostropovich. Both the Prokofiev and Rachmaninov sonatas also are also available played by Rostropovich but not of course with either composer, though the Prokofiev was written for him. Since practically every cellist out there, in addition to Rostropovich, has recorded some or all these sonatas there is no question of a 'best performance' recommendation. The only question needing an answer is, do these musicians make a sufficiently good job of the music to be worth hearing? Emphatically yes. They are also very well recorded indeed. The last time I heard this duo they were doing a period instrument survey of the Beethoven Cello Sonatas and that I liked very much indeed because it was refreshing. This time they are in standard repertoire (the extras apart) and prove to be very capable exponents of this important Russian music. It could be argued that they do not invest the works with the passion and power of some of the competition. Playing through Rostropovich and Shostakovich's recording, for example, is to encounter emotional extremes not touched by Haimovitz and O'Riley, but the latter do not sound as if they have been recorded on a cassette from the other end of a large gymnasium, so there are compensations.

The arrangements, Waltz, Troika and Vocalise, are very pleasant to hear, each has a good tune and makes for easy listening whilst never providing the satisfaction of the originals. Encore material in musical terms.

The cover versions of three much more modern protest songs is inevitably of lesser interest. My awareness of 'pop' is extremely limited so I had a quick viewing of Pussy Riot getting themselves arrested whilst performing and must say they are lot less sedate than the pianist and cellist here. Viktor Tsoi seems to have upset people less for his music than his lyrics. The Beatles are of course much better known to my age group but they too have rather more energy than here. The addition of this sort of material to an essentially 'classical' recital is acceptable but I hardly think it does more than draw attention to issues well away from music. Musically these few extra minutes are irrelevant.

Dave Billinge



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