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Moderato cantabile
George I GURDJIEFF (1866-1949)
Sayyid Chant and Dance No.3; Hymn No.7 [6:42]
Hymn No.8; Night procession [6:44]
No.11 segueing into Mompou’s Fêtes lointaines No.3 [4:47]
François COUTURIER (b.1950)
Voyage [5:27]
Soleil rouge [3:36]
Papillons [7:27]
KOMITAS (Komitas Vardapet) (1869-1935)
Chinar es [6:29]
Federico MOMPOU (1893-1987)
Fêtes lointaines No.3 (see above)
Canción y danza VI [5:12]
Música Callada XXVIII: Impresiones intimas I [5:59]
Impresiones intimas VIII ‘Secreto’ [5:04]
Anja Lechner (cello)
François Couturier (piano)
rec. 2013, Auditorio Radiotelevisione svizzera, Lugano
ECM NEW SERIES 2367 (4810992) [57:32]

ECM can bring out the best and worst in performers. The seductive sound quality marshalled by Manfred Eicher is a given but the licence extended to artists can lead to self-indulgence, a quality I have experienced in a few recent auditions of material from the label. Here there might superficially be concerns. The duo of cellist Anja Lechner and pianist François Couturier have arranged a ream of music by Komitas, Mompou and – quite extensively – Gurdjieff, and sterner listeners might consider this too airy for comfort. In practice, in hearing, it proves hypnotic.

The Greek-Armenian philosopher George Ivanovich Gurdjieff was not, in a conventional sense, really a composer and debate still ranges over the extent of his original contributions. Seen however as a mystical fount of melodies, loyally taken down by an amanuensis figure, the pianist Thomas de Hartmann – himself a composer – and the lines between originality and re-creativity crumble. The Gurdjieff music here, shaped by Hartmann and now recast by the Lecher-Couturier duo, spins a web of sheer vaporous beauty. The chants and hymns with their percussive dance motifs rendered through the piano are extraordinarily effective in this duo incarnation. Musically the eastern hymnal qualities come close to Bloch, certainly in Hymn No.8. Rather provocatively the duo segues from his Hymn No.11 straight into Mompou’s Fêtes lointaines No.3 implying in the North African hints in the music some associations between the two, not least in the stillness of Mompou’s writing. Inevitably however they don’t cleave to the more ascetic elements of the composer-pianist’s own playing, which was notably dry and gimlet-eyed; they bring altogether a warmer palette to bear in their interesting segue from Música Callada XXVIII to Impresiones intimas I.

Komitas, the Armenian priest, singer, musicologist and composer is represented only by a single piece, Chinar es but it establishes a joyful profile and reminds us too that, biographically, the three composers were exiles in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s. Three of the pieces are compositions by the pianist. Voyage is a twisting, curling piece, the cello coiling over the piano’s repetitive support, whilst jazz-flecked harmonies infiltrate the music and the cello imitates bass pizzicato. Soleil rouge is rhythmically exciting, almost turning into a tango or bossa, though here the pianist perhaps owes elements of his harmonic thinking to Paul Bley.

The overriding aural impression left by these clever arrangements is one of meditative refinement. The jazz elements are not wholly confined to the piano but lie strongest there. One of the major influences on the Gurdjieff pieces in particular is surely Keith Jarrett’s 1980 Sacred Hymns album, which re-awoke interest in the mystic philosopher’s music.

This richly expressive ECM album manages to bend time to its will and to draw the listener into its quiet intensities. It’s quite an experience for those open to it.

Jonathan Woolf


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