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October 11 , 2006

Praise for Couturier’s Tarkovsky tribute

One of the highlights of the recent ECM Festival in Dinant, Belgium, was pianist Francois Couturier’s Song for Tarkovsky project. The group, which features Jean-Louis Matinier, Jean-Marc Larché and Anja Lechner, plays new music freely inspired by the films of the great Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky.

On October 5, the quartet also gave a very well-received French premiere in Paris, at the Salle de la Chapelle des Récollets of the Maison de l’Architecture.

In Le Monde, Francis Marmande spoke of “music that neither illustrates nor decorates Tarkovsky but is suffused with the spirit of his films. It melds with it in related ruptures, in a groundswell that suddenly ascends the melody, the motives, or the mode. It recalls the apparent spontaneity of the filmmaker’s montage, his separate world.”

The new album “Nostalghia – Song for Tarkovsky” (ECM 1979)
has created a still-building wave of interest. As Konrad Heidkamp observed in an extensive review in Die Zeit:

“Hardly any film director devotes so little importance to music as Andrei Tarkovsky. Few give so much space to silence and noise, allowing rain or footsteps to substitute for the rhythm and sound of music. Apart from his masterpiece Andrei Rublev, the only music heard in his films is by Bach, Pergolesi or Purcell; everything else is either a brief snippet or electronically generated, closer to noise than music. The album Nostalghia – Song for Tarkovsky is thus all the more surprising. It is music to honour Tarkovsky, not to reinterpret him. The French pianist François Couturier, an admirer of the films of this Soviet director, composes elegies and songs without words, creating soundscapes with Jean-Marc Larché on the soprano saxophone and Jean-Louis Matinier on the accordion, together with cellist Anja Lechner. The group sounds as if it has existed for years, not as if the four musicians had just met for the first time.

This CD should not be mistaken for a film score or for second-hand classical music, the well-scrubbed sounds that feed our ‘easy listening’ classical channels. Nor should we confuse it with the current trend toward movie music – jazz guitarists playing to Buster Keaton films, pop groups interpreting Sergey Eisenstein, wind bands accompanying Fritz Lang. Song for Tarkovsky demonstrates something completely different: that music and film are mutually contradictory, yet intrinsically related. Couturier strikes a single note on the piano, and it fades away with such seductive slowness that no second note is necessary. Then a second note comes anyway, and a third, forming a minor-mode soundscape, the ideal place for people who want to be alone but can’t. The accordion enters, yearningly, abrasively, a second voice that transforms solitude into melancholy. The name of the piece is Le Sacrifice, dedicated to Tarkovsky’s like-named last film of 1984.

They play twelve pieces in various combinations. Some are dedicated to actors, such as Erland Josephson (Nostalghia and Sacrifice) and Anatoli Solonitsyne (Andrei Rublev and Stalker), or the cameraman Sven Nykvist (Sacrifice). Some simply evoke colours from Tarkovsky’s films – cello-brown, muted piano-green, the pebble-grey of the accordion, flashes of light from the soprano saxophone. Anyone who wants to may detect the hand of the producer Manfred Eicher in the luminous sounds – the floating soprano saxophone borne birdlike on the winds, the silence seemingly lurking behind every note.

Several of the dream motifs are taken from a sonata by Alfred Schnittke, the ‘Erbarme dich’ from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. But standing in the foreground is a musicality nourished at other wellsprings. Couturier, born near Orléans in 1950, has played with jazz musicians such as John McLaughlin. He has been equally at home with avant-garde improvisers and the oud player Anouar Brahem. Here and there, in various formations, he met Jean-Louis Matinier and Jean-Marc Larché. The cellist Anja Lechner, a member of the Rosamunde String Quartet, moves just as freely across musical boundaries. She feels as closely attuned to Dino Saluzzi as to Misha Alperin or Gurdjieff, to whom she dedicated the moving Chants, Hymns and Dances with the pianist Vassilis Tsabropoulos. It is their attitude that has brought them together, not their backgrounds.

Those who find the sorrowful rage of Tarkovsky’s films too dark will be surprised by the long-breathed lyricism of Nostalghia, by the bright, hope-filled pieces that fill this album. It is as if the poetry of his films predominates, not their stern gaze at the world around us. (...)”