Sunday, October 11, 2009

Karaindrou Scores Angelopoulos: Dust of Time

Dust of Time: Music for the Film by Theo Angelopoulos
By Eleni Karaindrou
ECM New Series 2070

You haven’t seen the film, now buy the soundtrack. Relatively few people have had the chance to screen Theo Angelopoulos’s Dust of Time at European film festivals, but international cineastes will already be well aware of the new film from the Cannes award winning director. Many will also be familiar with the music of Eleni Karaindrou, who since 1983 has scored Angelopoulos’s films, as has been documented on six previous CDs of film music released on the ECM label. Thanks to label founder Manfred Eicher’s commitment to Karaindrou’s music and his confidence in the enduring value of the finest film scores, Karaindrou’s music from Dust of Time is now available in America, well ahead of the film itself.

Though jazz was an early influence on Karaindrou, her collaborations with Angelopoulos have largely been contemporary classical music, at times seasoned with traditional Greek folk music. Such is the case again with Dust (starring Willem Dafoe, Irene Jacob, and Michel Piccoli), which intertwines a filmmaker’s search for his missing daughter with his memories of his own parents, cruelly separated by the Second World War and its aftermath.

Since the prodigal father character is a pianist, the piano logically has a significant role in Karaindrou’s score, but violin, cello, and harp are in fact the dominant voices of Dust. Indeed, Sergiu Nastasa’s violin sets the elegiac tone right from the beginning, while Maria Bildea’s harp adds a nostalgic once-upon-a-time ambiance to “Les Temps Perdu.” Like many of Angelopoulos’s films, Dust is, by most reports, more concerned with plumbing the mysteries of the past (both the intimately personal and the grandly historical) than observing orderly narrative structures. Clearly, Karaindrou’s chamber-like themes are perfectly suited to such a memory play.

Several motifs repeat throughout Karaindrou’s score, perhaps the most critical being the “Dance Theme,” which is used in Dust for the soundtrack recording session of the protagonist’s film-within-the-film. Both variations (the CD release actually programs the second before the first), employ cello, strings, bassoon, oboe, and accordion to create darkly hued musical vignettes. However, the fully orchestrated, symphonic rendition of “Dance” is a sweepingly passionate piece, featuring Natalia Michailidou’s delicate piano interpretation of Karaindrou’s stirring theme.

Inherently part of a greater whole, the themes from Dust are most rewarding when heard in their full context, but there are several tracks that would stand alone quite well, including the symphonic “Dance.” Likewise, Dinos Hadjiiordanou’s accordion gives “Waltz By the River” a sadly romantic old world feeling that holds up nicely as a self contained composition. Yet, perhaps the most dramatic, emotionally unified excerpt from Karaindrou’s score is “Memories from Siberia,” featuring Renato Ripo’s achingly mournful cello introduction.

Despite the fragmentary nature of film scores in general, Karaindrou’s music from Dust is surprisingly effective independent of Angelopoulos’s film. Her themes and motifs fit seamlessly together in a gorgeously rendered set of ruminative music.