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Veli-Matti PUUMALA (b.1965)
Chainsprings, for orchestra (1995/1997) [25:02]
Seeds of Time, for piano and orchestra (2004) [39:10]
Roland Pöntinen (piano)
Tampere Philharmonic/Hannu Lintu
rec. Tampere Hall, Tampere, Finland, 27-28 April 2009; 7-8 January 2010 (Chainsprings). DDD. Hybrid SACD
ALBA ABCD 319 [64:34]

Experience Classicsonline

These are premiere recordings of two time-regarding orchestral works by Finnish composer Veli-Matti Puumala. Puumala is happy to be recognised as a modernist, and his music, consequently, is not for those looking for a good tune. That said, a few of those do crop up briefly in these works, both of which are generally masculine, energetic, occasionally almost kitschly post-modern, and sometimes introspective.

The orchestration of Chainsprings is bizarre but intriguing: the booklet lists "Balkan folk music, French spectral music, Finnish orchestral canon, Italian virtuosity and Indonesian gamelan music." If that sounds like a recipe for mash, there is some truth in that, certainly. In fairness, that was Puumala's intention: to evolve contrasting fragments into a coherent landscape over time. Whether or not he does that with complete success is a moot point, but so much goes on in Chainsprings that it is hard not to be impressed by the interweaving of elements and the overall dramatic effect alike. This is one of a trilogy of orchestral Chain works, along with Chant Chains and Chains of Camenae, that must count among his most significant compositions.

Seeds of Time too is strangely orchestrated, not so much in the nature of the instrumentation, but in the way various sub-groups have been organised - duos, trios, quartets - and placed, soloist-like, in opposition to the piano, which, though hard-working, does not behave much like a concertante instrument - although the notes do still refer to Seeds of Time as a Piano Concerto. Layer over this set-up a series of temporal 'windows', as Puumala calls them, by means of which listeners can peer back in music history almost willy-nilly, and the conception is as complex as it is powerful. There are some rowdy moments for sure, but these are tempered not only by one or two jazzy ones, but by plenty of gentle passages that place this work, like Chainsprings, at the more accessible end of the modernist spectrum.

Hannu Lintu is a seasoned conductor with a large discography under his belt, particularly on Ondine, with a speciality in living Finnish composers. He has recorded with the excellent Tampere Philharmonic several times, having become their artistic director in 2009. Puumala's music is no straightforward proposition but under Lintu's expert guidance the Tampere gives an impressive account of it, especially in the mentally demanding Seeds of Time. Swedish pianist Roland Pöntinen has made even more recordings than Lintu, and his experience stands him in good stead with a persuasive performance of a work that Puumala dedicated to him and Lintu.

Sound quality is magnificent, even in normal stereo, although the music has been recorded at a lower volume than normal - perhaps to prevent hearing damage with headphones! The English-Finnish booklet is glossy, but sufficient rather than spectacular in terms of information. Unfortunately the three-movement Seeds of Time has, like Chainsprings, been allocated only one track by Alba's technicians. This may constitute a minor inconvenience to listeners, but many are sure to find it rather irritating, nevertheless - there is simply no justification for it. That, however, is just about the only cause for complaint as far as this engaging release goes - at least for those not just looking for a good tune.

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