Veli-Matti PUUMALA (b. 1965)
Chainsprings (1995/7) [25:02]
Seeds of Time (2004)a [39:10]
Roland Pöntinen (piano)a
Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra/Hannu Lintu
rec. Tampere Hall, Main Auditorium, 27-28 April 2009 (Seeds of Time) and 7-8 January 2010 (Chainsprings)
ALBA ABCD 319 [64:34]

A few years ago while visiting one of my second-hand haunts in Brussels I found a disc of Puumala's chamber music. I found it most interesting and appealing and was curious to hear more. Here now are two substantial orchestral works each composed on a very large scale indeed. 

The earliest of them is Chainsprings. It is part of a large series of orchestral and chamber works incorporating the name Chains in their titles; I would like to hear others some day. Chainsprings may bring Lutosławski to mind; after all he composed three pieces titled Chain. This may not be purely coincidental since the composer says that the work is a tribute to the Polish composer and his musical thinking. The music grows out of fragments and then develops across longer time-spans. Chainsprings is structurally fairly complex: it comprises a set of thirteen variations divided into four Quadros (pictures) and further divided up by recurring episodes. I drew this bit of information from the insert notes. After all, this is far from easily perceived by the average music-lover such as the present writer. Perhaps close scrutiny of the score would help in appraising the entire structure but I wonder. The most remarkable feature of this sizeable work is the wealth of invention displayed from the opening arresting gesture until its close. It’s a richly varied, colourfully scored and capricious kaleidoscope. The music is eclectic and encompasses many different stylistic elements while eschewing the all-too-easy trap of mere pastiche. Chainsprings is a formidable orchestral display of brilliant and effective scoring and a pointer to Puumala's ability to think in epic paragraphs. 

This ability to construct large structures is also the most evident feature of the piano concerto Seeds of Time. Commissioned jointly by four orchestras it was written for the Swedish pianist Roland Pöntinen and Finnish conductors Hannu Lintu and Susanna Mälkki. Unlike Chainsprings the concerto falls into three movements although these are not indexed in this disc. The composer says that the work ties with different times of the day. The first movement Turba (crowd) and the second Premura (haste) are daytime music whereas the final movement Tra le braccia della Notte (In the Arms of the Night) is in effect a Nocturne. There is again much to admire in this rather long work; particularly the many felicitous instrumental and orchestral touches though I found it a bit too long for its own good. The music tends to wander at times and the stylistic eclecticism already noted in Chainsprings worked less satisfactorily. This may be a matter of personal taste but I find that this substantial work would have gained from some judicious pruning. That said, Pöntinen certainly plays superbly throughout this exacting work and that the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra supports him wholeheartedly. 

The Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra has now become quite a fine orchestra and their strongly committed reading of Chainsprings shows them in top form. 

In short, this superbly engineered release deserves to be heard. Puumala's music is well worth the effort and the disc does full justice to this composer's attractive and often beautiful music. Do not be put off by my slightly lukewarm appraisal of the Piano Concerto but Chainsprings is clearly the real gem here and it would vastly justify the price paid for this disc. 

Hubert Culot

Two substantial works by an endearing Finnish composer.

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