Working in the former Soviet Union during the Cold War era, Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky encountered the repression typically endured by artists operating under the Kremlin's control. Unable to channel his frustrations into explicitly anti-authoritarian films, Tarkovsky instead concentrated on the equally savage conflicts of spirituality.
Though the authorities in Russia backed him financially, his films were rarely shown there, but were exported to the West to make it seem that Russia endorsed free expression. As a result he was something of an outsider in his homeland. His films are imbued with a sense of longing, or nostalghia, for one's place of origin, a thematic counterpoint to the hefty philosophical issues at hand.
Tarkovsky's oeuvre and the ECM label are linked by a patently European sound aesthetic. The director's audio tracks merge diegetic and non-diegetic sounds, producing a peculiar brand of aural imagery. Likewise, ECM founder Manfred Eicher envelops each of his productions in sheets of reverb, resulting in an identifiable spatial dimension that distinguishes the label. François Couturier's Nostalghia, an ECM release, takes the association one step further.
Since Tarkovsky's soundtracks are not so much "musical scores" in the traditional sense as they are complex soundscapes, Couturier has opted to use predominantly original material inspired by his favorite director. A fittingly unconventional lineup of piano (Couturier), cello (Anja Lechner), soprano saxophone (Jean Marc Larché), and accordion (Jean Louis Matinier) weaves an intricate network of written sections and improvised textures, sometimes rendering the two indistinct. Excluding a pair of collective improvisations, the music is penned by Courturier but contains allusions to J.S. Bach, Alfred Schnittke and Giovanni Battista Pergolesi.
Couturier's level of appreciation for the director is clear from the diversity of Tarkovsky's acquaintances to whom the pianist dedicates several pieces: "Crépusculaire" pays homage to cinematographer Sven Nykvist, whose recent passing lends a shadow of grief to its haunting, cyclical main theme; the title track is dedicated to Tonino Guerra, who scripted the film of the same name; composer Edouard Artemiev is recognized with the intense and brooding "Stalker"; Anatoli Solonitsyne, perhaps the most frequently seen face in Tarkovsky's films, is the subject of appreciation in the beautiful, Pergolesi-inspired "Toliu"; and "L'éternel Retour," a reprise of the Bach-derived theme from the opening "Le Sacrifice," honors actor Erland Josephson.
As an improviser, Courturier possesses a vibrant jazz vocabulary, but he demonstrates it sparingly; indeed, all four musicians sacrifice flashiness for the sake of mood, which is decidedly meditative. The quartet's somewhat deliberate pacing makes perfect sense in light of the filmmaker's propensity for long takes, which grew out of his rejection of Formalist montage theory. Even so, a familiarity with Tarkovsky's work is not required to enjoy Nostalgia, yet another "cinematic" entry in the ECM canon.