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Uljas PULKKIS (b. 1975)
Enchanted Garden (2000) [19:38]
Concerto for Flute and Orchestra (2001) [20:32]
Symphonic Dalí (2002) [36:46]
Jaakko Kuusisto (violin) (Garden); Sharon Bezaly (flute) (concerto)
Stavanger Symphony Orchestra/Susanna Mälkki
rec. Stavanger Concert Hall, Norway, June, August 2005
BIS SACD1339 [78:26]

Now in his early thirties, Uljas Voitto Pulkkis, as he was then known, gained some earlier international recognition when his Tears of Ludovico for piano and orchestra was awarded the First Prize at the 1999 Queen Elisabeth Composition Competition. As such this became the test work for the finals of the 1999 Queen Elisabeth Piano Competition. Later, Pulkkis’s violin concerto Enchanted Garden won the first prize at the 2001 UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers; no mean achievement for a composer under thirty. Since then, he has expanded his output with some substantial works. These include the Flute Concerto and Symphonic Dalí recorded here, as well as another orchestral work On the Crest of Waves and a pair of concertos.
Subtitled “a musical tale in eight chapters for solo violin and orchestra”, Enchanted Garden is laid-out in one large single movement, albeit falling into several sections; these, however, are not indexed, which would have been useful. The work is conceived as a large-scale arch, ending with a varied restatement of the opening. In between, the various sections explore various moods and techniques, some of them harking back to the French spectral school, but never extravagantly so. On the whole this piece aptly evokes some mysterious and almost surreal moods. Some otherwise unmentioned or uncredited electronics seem to be part of the textures, although quite discretely, thus emphasising the fantastic character of the music. For all its complexity this music is strongly evocative and atmospheric. Jaakko Kuusisto, a finalist in the 1997 Queen Elisabeth Violin Competition, has all the technique to navigate almost effortlessly through the fiendishly difficult solo part.
The Concerto for Flute and Orchestra, dedicated to Sharon Bezaly and BIS Records, is almost traditional, both in its musical idiom and its three-movement layout. That said, the music shares some characteristics with that of Enchanted Garden, particularly in its reliance on expressive scalic figures. The music might be described as straightforward when compared to the sophistication of the violin concerto. Actually, it sometimes hints at Neo-classicism; the annotator even mentions Honegger, Hindemith and Einar Englund. This characteristic is evident in the third movement. The solo part is neatly tailored for Sharon Bezaly who, true to herself, plays magnificently throughout.
Symphonic Dalí (“Three paintings for orchestra”) is a substantial work playing for almost forty minutes. Here Pulkkis displays the full measure of his remarkable gift for tellingly calculated orchestral sound. This he obviously relishes. The three movements are inspired in one way or another by canvases by Dalí: The Colossus of Rhodes, Shades of Night Descending and Dawn. The first movement brilliantly evokes dazzling light as well as powerfully swelling waves. As might be expected, the second movement is a mysterious, almost mystical Nocturne, whereas the third movement unfolds from darkness to light. The colourful, lushly scored music often brings Respighi and Ravel to mind. The annotator also mentions Rautavaara - late Rautavaara.
As already mentioned, Pulkkis obviously has a remarkable instrumental flair and handles his often large forces with a sure feel for telling broad orchestral strokes. These works leave me with some unanswered questions: is a personal voice at work in these imposing works? To be frank, Enchanted Garden may be the only distinctive work here and the later works lack that personal identity. I nevertheless thoroughly enjoyed the bright orchestral colours that Pulkkis conjures up. This reservation on my part should not deter anyone who enjoys Ravel or Respighi from investigating this superbly produced release and coming to their own conclusions.
Hubert Culot


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