Jukka TIENSUU (b. 1948)
Vie (2007) [17:58]
Missa (2007)a [28:17]
False Memories I-III (2008) [17:52]
Kari Kriikku (clarinet)a
Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra/John Storgårds
rec. Finlandia Hall, Helsinki, 12 September 2009 (Vie), 6-7 December 2009 (Missa) and 18 March 2010 (False Memories)
ONDINE ODE 1166-2 [64:34]

This brand new release from Ondine offers three recent works by Tiensuu. They help considerably in appreciating his evolution over the last few years. Incidentally a pair of Alba CDs (ABCD 224 and ABCD 258, both reviewed here by Rob Barnett and the present writer) also went in the same direction.

Tiensuu is a most secretive composer reluctant to comment on his music and preferring to leave it to the listener to make up his own mind about the music. Moreover the titles of his works are often quite enigmatic, which does not make the task any easier. This is the case with Vie composed in 2007 and subtitled “Concerto for Orchestra”. The title might probably mean “life” although it might also relate in some way or another to the English verb “to vie”. In fact this does not seem to matter a lot because the music speaks for itself and is brilliant enough to engage the mind and heart. It opens with a forceful, ostinato-based gesture that recurs at various points in one form or another as a unifying thread of sorts. At one point the music halts in a more static section in which the music almost disintegrates into isolated fragments; this before proceeding into a Scherzo-like section in turn leading into a rather forceful coda abruptly cut short. Vie is a real showpiece full of instrumental virtuosity, arresting textures and sometimes intricate rhythms.

Tiensuu has often claimed that he considered that “the ancient conception that music is the shortest path to higher spiritual spheres” was one of the most relevant premises of creative work for him. However, although Missa bears a definitely religious title, it is difficult to relate the work (Tiensuu’s second clarinet concerto) to anything religious. The only tenuous link is that the seven movements of the work refer to the different parts of a traditional Mass and that the music may reflect the character of those parts. The rather anguished mood of the Introitus spills into the sadly pleading Kyrie. The Gloria is an animated movement with intricate rhythms and allusions to Klezmer. The ensuing Credo opens hesitantly but then moves onwards with some assertiveness, at times verging on brutality before petering out unresolved. Sanctus is a fairly animated affair with capricious rhythms. The Agnus Dei opens calmly on high strings weaving a soft backcloth for the soloist’s song, sometimes echoed by the orchestral clarinets. The piece ends with a brief Ite.

The subtitle “Morphosis for Orchestra” might hint at what False Memories is about. A close analysis of the score - something beyond my skills - might show the way the variations evolve. The work is in three movements (Review, Nostalgy and Trauma). Again these titles may give an idea of the music itself. “Review” opens with strongly articulated, syncopated rhythms and, soon established, the capricious mood of the movement is maintained throughout. In its unsentimental way the music of the beautiful slow movement speaks for itself as does that of the troubled final movement that provides an unresolved conclusion.

Tiensuu’s recent music obviously takes a step further towards greater accessibility although it is still far from being easy, especially on the performers’ part. Even so, it clearly displays a new-found pleasure in music-making. Tiensuu obviously relishes the many textural possibilities of the orchestra. These three works undoubtedly demonstrate the composer’s enjoyment in his brilliant handling of large orchestral forces.

The performers clearly partake of that same delight with Storgårds conducting vital and immaculately prepared readings of these exacting and ultimately rewarding scores. Kari Kriikku is his own self in the demanding part of Missa which he handles with exemplary technique and remarkable musicality. The recording is just superb making the best of these often luxuriant scores.

This release might well be the best introduction possible to Tiensuu’s highly personal sound world.

Hubert Culot

A most desirable addition to Tiensuu’s discography … magnificent.