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Jukka TIENSUU (b. 1948)
Alma III: Soma (1998) [8:30]
Mind (2000)a [33:59]
Mood (1999) [9:02]
Alma II: Lumo (1996) [13:45]
Juhani Lagerspetz (piano)a; Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra/Susanna Mälkki
rec. Tampere Hall, Main Auditorium, 10-14 October 2005
ALBA ABCD224 [65:19]







Jukka TIENSUU (b. 1948)
nemo (1997) [21:44]
Puro (1989)a [17:47]
Spiriti (2005)b [28:38]
Kari Kriikku (clarinet)a; Mikko Luoma (accordion)b; Avanti!/Susanna Mälkki
rec. YLE Studio M2, 4 December 2005 (nemo), 21 August 2006 (Spiriti) and 3 April 2007 (Puro)
ALBA ABCD258 [68:35]


Experience Classicsonline

Harpsichordist, organiser as well as composer, Jukka Tiensuu is a highly versatile musician. As so many Finnish composers of younger generations, he studied with Paavo Heininen before studying further with Brian Ferneyhough and Klaus Huber. He also spent some time in various leading electronic studios all over the world. Such background may explain the overtly modernist trends to be heard in his music, be they spectral harmonies, electronics, micro-intervals and aleatorics, to name but a few. His attitude toward composing is pretty single-minded in that he once declared that “in our age every single work has to have a specific reason for being created” (quoted in Kimmo Korhonen’s book Inventing Finnish Music). He is also a very secretive composer who never comments on his own music, preferring to leave it to the listener’s imagination. Last of all, he considers his music as partaking “in the age-old vision of music as the shortest route to the highest spiritual spheres”. So, one is left with a number of works bearing titles that could “provide telling indicators to the worlds which they inhabit and are as a rule deliberately ambiguous” (Kimmo Korhonen, but my emphasis). All right then, but what are we to do with the title of the impressive, Xenakis-like orchestral work MXPZKL (1977) or of M (1980 – harpsichord, strings and percussion), to name but two?

Tiensuu composed three works sharing the title Alma, i.e. Alma I: Himo (orchestra and tape), Alma II: Lumo and Alma III: Soma, both for orchestra and sampler. Alma III: Soma for orchestra and sampler opens with bright, repeated chords out of which instrumental episodes emerge with bubbling woodwind, growling brass and tinkling percussion. Massive brass chords interrupt the flow of the music but a forceful restatement of the opening chords launch a new section of restless energy in which a massive hocket-like chiming from brass and percussion takes the lead alternating with softer chiming. A gong stroke leads into a somewhat more ambiguous section although the opening chords are still there, but dominated by echoing fanfares. This brightly coloured work concludes with an affirmative tutti. By the way, “soma” means “pretty” which is fairly in tune with this colourful work that might prove quite popular, were it heard more often.

Tiensuu’s piano concerto Mind is in four movements. The first movement (Earth – Reflection) opens in a deceptively simple way, viz. a single repeated note that is progressively added to, thus creating a more complex rhythmic pattern leading to the first entry of the orchestral strings. A colourful, crystalline dialogue between piano and string ensues leading into a cadenza of some sort, accompanied later by string glissandos and woodwind. Brass intervene in a more animated section that eventually die away. The second movement (Air – Play) opens in much the same way as the first movement while making it quite clear that this is a Scherzo of sorts, full of capricious flights of fancy, sometimes of dance-like, almost jazzy character. The music peters out lightly at the end. The third movement (Water – Dream) comes the closest to a slow movement. Mysterious glissandos and what sounds to me as playing on the piano strings create an eerie, dreamlike atmosphere interrupted by a somewhat darker section in which the piano explores its low register before launching into another lightly coloured episode suggesting a gamelan. It ends with a final meditation over string clusters, resonating gong-like chords and a final bell. The opening of the fourth movement (Fire – Passion) again recalls that of the first and second movements, but is bluntly interrupted by the orchestra propelling what is a final Toccata in all but the name, full of restless energy, fantasy and imagination, the whole ending with an assertive orchestral gesture.

Mood is scored for smaller instrumental forces than the other works in this release. Its subtitle “Stereophonic Music”) most likely suggest that the chamber orchestra is laid-out into two or more instrumental groups. The scoring displays some considerable lightness of touch and subtlety while the music is fairly playful in its own way, sometimes with a pinch of irony. Melodic and rhythmic fragments are tossed to and fro from one group to another, and the piece unfolds uninterrupted towards the music’s final disintegration.

The very opening of Alma II : Lumo suggests some “music of the dawn”, at once clear and mysterious. The music, however, soon gathers momentum when it transforms into a massive chiming gesture. A low pedal point is then followed by a new, brightly coloured episode: woodwind in close dialogue. A distant chime, first in harmonics, later in soft metal percussion follows a short pause. A more animated section swells-up from the depths of the orchestra, soon taken-up by the higher strings and other instruments in a wave-like motion. The work ends with a final upwards surge capped by a final high note. By the way, “lumo” means “charm” (Kimmo Korhonen).

Another example of Tiensuu’s enigmatically titled works nemo is scored for ensemble, sampler and live electronics. This is “nemo” with small “s” (“nobody” in Latin). Is it to be read backwards as “omen”? Does it really matter? The work opens in a lively way. The music then slows down while still moving on in some indeterminacy creating some unsettling mood. A brief restatement of the opening leads into an eerie section climaxing in an ambiguous episode coloured by micro-intervals, still more unsettling, followed by a lighter, shimmering section. The music then pauses in a long cluster in which the players’ voices join in. Another varied restatement of the opening leads into a new, rhythmically alert section slowly falling apart. Fragments then attempt at regaining some coherence, but micro-intervals stand in the way. Further unsettling, cluster-like harmonies are eventually brushed away by a brilliant varied reprise of the opening finally dissolving into thin air.

There is hardly a contemporary Finnish work for clarinet that has not been written for and/or first performed by Kari Kriikku. This is the case of Tiensuu’s clarinet concerto Puro (i.e. “pure” in Italian but also “stream” in Finnish) that he recorded several years ago with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jukka-Pekka Saraste (on Finlandia FACD 402, later re-issued on Ondine ODE 778-2). This is a brilliant, virtuosic work, but the music also allows for more reflective and playful episodes. The solo part is quite taxing and makes use of many modern playing techniques such as multiphonics. Puro is a complex but ultimately quite rewarding work and, no doubt about it, one of Tiensuu’s best known works.

The title of the work, Spiriti, and of the individual movements may give some hint of what the music is about, but again much is left to the listener’s imagination. The first movement opens with a forceful call to arms, and mainly functions as a prologue. The second movement is rather subdued and meditative as well as often lightly scored whereas the third movement is a rather devilish Scherzo of some sort in which the high register of the accordion competes against rumbles from the orchestral lower instruments. The fourth movement opens with a questioning motif from the ensemble that later combines with the accordion’s answers. The mood is rather foreboding and ominous, although the soloist attempts at brightening the picture. The final movement is mostly fast and furious, full of contrasts, characterised by the accordion’s mighty, at times aggressive outbursts. The soloist’s attempts at melody are brought to nothing and he too indulges in crushing, violent chords rushing the work to its hectic conclusion.

Jukka Tiensuu’s highly personal sound world is superbly served by excellent, strongly committed performances in superb recorded sound. I listened to these hybrid SACDs on a “normal” CD player without any loss in sound’s quality and directness. Performances and recording superbly respond to Tiensuu’s remarkable orchestral and instrumental palette. “Minds and Moods” (ABCD 224) is to my mind the best possible introduction to Tiensuu’s distinctive sound-world for it presents four engaging and attractive scores that are readily enjoyable and rewarding, whereas the works on the other disc are rather tougher nuts to crack (though well worth cracking) that will appeal to those who have already some acquaintance with this composer’s music. I cannot recommend these records too strongly for the often thought-provoking experience that these gripping and beautiful works have to offer.

Hubert Culot 

see also Review by Rob Barnett



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