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Anja Lechner, Franҫois Couturier MODERATO CANTABILE / ECM New Series 2367
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Music of Komitas Vardapet (1869-1935), G. I. Gurdjieff (1866-1949), Federico Mompou (1893-1987), Franҫois Couturier (b. 1950)

After a decade of shared work in the Tarkovsky Quartet and an ongoing alliance in the Pergolesi Project with singer Maria Pia De Vito (see the recent Il Pergolese album), German cellist Anja Lechner and French pianist Franҫois Couturier unveil their new duo. The players approach the music from different vantage points: Lechner is a classical soloist, with an uncommon interest in improvisation, Couturier a jazz musician travelling ever further from jazz. On Moderato cantabile they present their own arrangements of works by three fascinating outsiders from the margins of music history – G.I. Gurdjieff, Komitas, and Federico Mompou. To differing degree the music of these composers reveals influences from the east, in terms of relationship to folk music traditions and ritual and religious music, and also philosophically. The programme has connections to Anja Lechner’s acclaimed account of Gurdjieff’s music on the earlier Chants, Hymns and Dances (recorded in 2003 with Vassilis Tsabropoulos), but the new duo has its own distinct identity, and many visits to Armenia have deepened Lechner’s understanding of the contexts from which the music emerged: her cello assumes almost a singer’s role in these pieces, exploring the strong melodies.

Franҫois Couturier is featured here both as player and composer and his pieces function as both contrasting and complementary elements. As the liner notes point out, “Years spent in the company of Tunisian oud master Anouar Brahem seem to have reinforced a contemplative element in Couturier’s own idiom as player, composer, arranger. A reflective patience is characteristic of much of his work. In his music, with or without a score, themes tend to be slowly unfolded and developed. His compositions are ‘evolutionary’, open to change in the moment, and his improvisations maintain a lyrical awareness and sense of form. Unlike many improvising contemporaries he is unafraid to broach the brink of silence – making him perhaps a natural interpreter for Mompou’s Música Callada.” Couturier has previously played arrangements of Mompou in jazz piano trio contexts, and the Catalan composer has been an important reference for him, just as the Transcaucasian Gurdjieff and the Armenian Komitas Vardapet have been important references for Lechner. The cellist first came to understand Komitas’s role in bridging Armenian secular and sacred music though her work with Tigran Mansurian. Her interpretations of Gurdjieff, meanwhile, had a powerful impact in Armenia, and inspired the foundation of the Gurdjieff Folk Instruments Ensemble (refer to ECM 2236). Once again on Moderato cantabile Lechner and Couturier, with their new arrangements of Komitas, Gurdjieff and Mompou, show us that this music responds to a freely interpretative approach.

Moderato cantabile was recorded in the rich acoustics of Lugano’s Auditorio Radiotelevisione svizzera in November 2013, and produced by Manfred Eicher.

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Anja Lechner, born in Kassel, Germany, studied with Heinrich Schiff and Janos Starker. She has performed as soloist with orchestras including the Amsterdam Sinfonietta, the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra, the Slowakische Philharmonie, and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, and plays chamber music with partners including pianists Alexei Lubimov, Silke Avenhaus and Kirill Gerstein, cellist Agnès Vesterman, violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja, and clarinetist Reto Bieri. Lechner has premiered compositions by Tigran Mansurian, Valentin Silvestrov, Tõnu Kõrvits and Annette Focks amongst others. For 18 years she was the cellist of the Rosamunde Quartet, whose acclaimed ECM New Series albums embraced a scope of music from Joseph Haydn to Thomas Larcher. Her most recent recordings include Mansurian’s Quasi Parlando and Double Concerto with the Amsterdam Sinfonietta. In preparation is an album of solos and duos with Agnès Vesterman, playing compositions of Silvestrov. At home in all aspects of classical music, she is also fluent in diverse improvisational traditions, and has a long-running collaboration with bandoneonist Dino Saluzzi – documented in the film El Encuentro and on albums including Ojos Negros and Navidad de Los Andes.

François Couturier began playing piano at the age of six. After completing studies in classical music and musicology in the early 1970s, he began improvising in earnest, initially taking his cue from Paul Bley, Chick Corea and Joachim Kühn. In 1980 he won France’s Prix Django Reinhardt which raised his international profile, and shortly thereafter joined John McLaughlin’s group, touring and recording with the English guitarist. Couturier’s first appearance on ECM was on Anouar Brahem’s Khomsa in 1994. From 2001, he toured widely with the oud player in trio with accordionist Jean-Louis Matinier, and is featured on the albums Le pas du chat noir and Voyage de Sahar. He also appears on Brahem’s forthcoming album Souvenance: Music for oud, quartet and string orchestra. His recordings with Anja Lechner include Nostalghia – Song for Tarkovsky and Tarkovsky Quartet which incorporate his compositions as well as group improvising. Il Pergolese features his arrangements of music of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi. Other Couturier recordings on ECM are Poros, duets with violinist Dominique Pifarély, and the solo piano album Un jour si blanc.

The Lechner/Couturier duo launches Moderato Cantabile with a special concert at Paris’s Theatre de Montrouge on September 20. Further European and US dates are currently being finalized. Details soon at www.ecmrecords.com

CD in slipcase includes session photos, and liner notes by Steve Lake

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