Uljas PULKKIS (b. 1975)
On the Crest of Waves (2003) [17:58]
Tales of Joy, Passion and Love (2005/2010)a [33:25]
Vernal Bloom (2008) [9:12]
Kari Kriikku (clarinet)a; Gabriel Suovanen (baritone)a;
Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra/Hannu Lintu
rec. Tampere Hall, Finland, 1-2 June 2010 (On the Crest of Waves, Vernal Bloom); 7 January 2011 (Tales of Joy, Passion and Love)
ONDINE ODE 1176-2 [62:37]

Although still under forty Uljas Pulkkis already has a substantial and varied output to his credit and has been awarded a number of prizes. He received the First Prize of the 1999 Queen Elisabeth Composition Competition for his work for piano and orchestra The Tears of Ludovico and this brought him some international recognition. His concerto Enchanted Garden (2000) was awarded the first prize at the 2001 UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers.

A few years ago I reviewed a disc entirely devoted to his orchestral music (BIS-SACD-1339) which shed some light on his achievement so far. Now here is another disc devoted to some of his most recent works of which On the Crest of Waves composed in 2003 is the earliest. Although subtitled “Seven fantasies for symphony orchestra”, the piece is really one large-scale tone poem. It depicts the sea’s various moods in much the same way as some celebrated models such as Debussy’s La Mer or Bridge’s The Sea. Its seven linked movements draw a beautiful, colourful seascape in which Pulkkis’s orchestral flair is much to the fore.

His clarinet concerto Tales of Joy, Passion and Love was written for and dedicated to Kari Kriikku. The title of each of the three movements speaks for itself and so does the music. The first two movements share some thematic material. The first movement, Tales of Joy is mostly lively and rhythmically alert. The music may at times bring John Adams to mind without ever mimicking it. The movement ends unresolved and quietly bridges into the second movement Tales of Passion in which the soloist is joined first by the orchestral clarinets and later by a string quartet. The music here is mostly meditative although it has its more impassioned episodes – appropriately so, I would say. The third movement Tales of Love is somewhat unusual and seems to have been composed some time earlier than the first two movements of the concerto. It is a setting for baritone and clarinet of a text by Thomas Moore (1779–1852). “I had to have a singer. This movement is an aria, and it’s better understood as such if there is a singer actually there.”

Vernal Bloom was written to a commission from the Young Euro Classics Festival for a Finnish youth orchestra Vivo to which it is dedicated. Unlike the other works this one has no particular programme attached to the music. “It simply refers to the fact that it was spring and our first child had just been born.” This is thus a short, extrovert, unproblematic and quite attractive work that – rather inexplicably – ends unresolved; clearly a miscalculation on the composer’s part.

Pulkkis’s music is superbly crafted and marvellously scored. Here is a composer who really loves writing for large orchestral forces. The music often brings older composers to mind such as Debussy, Ravel and even Respighi. These performances and recordings do full justice to such lushly scored works. While reviewing the BIS disc I concluded with the following words. “These works leave me with some unanswered question: is a personal voice at work in these imposing scores?” Listening to the present three works I still do not have the answer to that question. This, however, may be a matter of personal taste but I found the music really well made and attractive. This is a fine release that should appeal to all with a liking for Debussy and Ravel.

Hubert Culot

Splendid performances in magnificent a recording of this attractive music.