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Francois Couturier: Nostalghia - Song for Tarkovsky

John Kelman By

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Sight and sound are often inexorably linked. In the earliest days of silent film, musicians would provide live accompaniment to images on a screen. While scoring cinema has become an integral part of the visual narrative, music as homage to film is less common. Pianist François Couturier—familiar to ECM fans for his work with oudist Anouar Brahem and violinist Dominique Pifarély—has created a work here that, in its dramatic scope and unerring honesty, is an emotive rather than illustrative song cycle.

Nostalghia—Song for Tarkovsky pays tribute to Couturier's favourite director, who passed away twenty years ago. In his relatively brief career, Andrei Tarkovsky created a body of work that continues to be germane to this day. Couturier's music—a mix of improvisation and original composition with reference to extant classical themes—perpetuates that relevancy with an emotional complexity that reflects both the nature of Tarkovsky's films and, ultimately, life itself.

Couturier has brought together an unorthodox group of musicians for the project. Anja Lechner, best-known in classical circles, has already demonstrated on Chants, Hymns and Dances (ECM, 2004) that she's capable of extemporaneous interpretation of composed form. Accordionist Jean-Louis Matinier works with Couturier in Anouar Brahem's trio, responsible for the recent Le Voyage de Sahar (ECM, 2006), and has also proven himself capable of mixing improvisation with more detailed scoring on clarinetist Louis Sclavis' score for Charles Vanel's silent film, Dans La Nuit (ECM, 2002). Soprano saxophonist Jean-Louis Marché is the new name here, though he's worked with Couturier and Matinier in the past, and their shared chemistry is unequivocal.

What makes Nostalghia so completely compelling is the way in which the musicians interact—ears open, always prepared to let notes breathe and respect the spaces between. Aside from three completely free improvisations, all the material is composed by Couturier, though he quotes themes from classical composers, including Schnittke, J.S. Bach and Pergolesi.

The title track is a delicate, Satie-esque piece that revolves around Couturier's simple and hypnotically repetitive arpeggio, the basis for an evocative melody by Marché that perfectly reflects the poetic and trance-like feel of the film. "Le Sacrifice is more diverse, beginning as a haunting piano solo that becomes darker when Matinier enters. It becomes darker still when Couturier creates a maelstrom of cascading notes that lead into a solo section for Matinier and, ultimately, resolution for the pair. "Crépusculaire evokes a broad range of emotions from fragile beauty to deep tension, with Lechner creating an unsettled sense of unease.

There are moments of pure chaos, but more moments of unadorned, almost naïve beauty. The line between form and freedom is sometimes obscured on this recording. But the way that Couturier and his ensemble arrive at a sometimes almost Zen-like state of spirituality, taking the listener right along with them, is what makes Nostalghia a high point in Couturier's already substantive career.

Track Listing: Le Sacrifice (quotes themes from J.S. Bach's Mattthauspassion); Crépusculaire (for Sven Nykvist); Nostalghia (for Toninho Guerra, quotes a theme fromt he third movement of Alfred Schnittke's Sonata for violoncello and piano); Solaris; Miroir; Solaris II; Andrei (quotes a theme from the third movement of Alfred Schnittke's Sonata for violoncello and piano); Ivan; Stalker (for Edouard Artemiev); Le Temps Scellé; Toliu (for Anatoli Solonitsyne, quotes excerpts from Amen from Giovanni Battista Pergolesi's Stabat Mater); L'éternel Retour (for Erland Josephson, quotes themes from J.S. Bach's Matthauspassion).

Personnel: François Couturier: piano; Anja Lechner: cello; Jean-Marc Larché: soprano saxophone; Jean-Louis Matinier: accordion.

Title: Nostalghia - Song for Tarkovsky | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: ECM Records


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