This recent Alba disc stands as a fine introduction to the orchestral music of Jukka Tiensuu, a Finnish composer of the same generation as Kaija Saariaho and Magnus Lindberg, but much less widely known. This is in some part due to Tiensuu himself, who is somewhat reclusive and refuses to comment on his music. Like his compatriots, he combines high modernism with an unshakeable energy and joie de vivre, something that I always think typically Finnish. But he is a highly original figure, pursuing a unique style of microtonal sounds. Here Susanna Malkki leads the Avanti! Chamber Orchestra in three works.
"Puro" for clarinet and chamber orchestra (1989) has an elegant opening. First the clarinet plays a slow and mysterious monody. Then, the orchestra takes up a bouncing Stravinsky-like cadence. Suddenly, that regularity gives way to a shimmering curtain of microtones, simultaneously harsh and beautiful. The piece then highlights the skills of the soloist for a time, featuring him with various sections of the ensemble and putting him through some extended techniques. Finally, the concerto returns to the soundworld it began with, coming back to nearly a mirror image of the opening. "Puro" was written for Kari Kriikku, who here records it with the Avanti! Chamber Orchestra for the second time. The first recording was under Jukka-Pekka Saraste on an Ondine disc, long out of print. I like Malkki's conducting better, and the sound here is vastly preferable.
"Nemo" for chamber orchestra and electronics (1997) proceeds through birdsong and undersea textures, with a constant return to a theme in the brass. The orchestral writing reminds me very much of the latest music of Marc-Andre Dalbavie. Some of the work involves electronically generated textures, which on this stereo recording dance back and forth between the left and right channels--I'd very much like to hear this work in a concert hall.
The most ambitious piece here is "Spiriti" for accordion and chamber orchestra (2000-05), a concerto in five movements. As the title and solo instrument suggest, this is work about breathing sounds. The orchestra sometimes imitates the soloist, or breaks down the accordion sounds into component parts played as more steady tones. This is the least enjoyable work here. I find the active orchestral portions exciting, but the long passages where only the soloist appears simply drag on.
I tend to think of this disc as three and a half stars. Tiensuu generally develops a unique soundworld, and he has much talent at scoring, but at some times the music becomes a sort of generic modernism. Still, fans of the Finnish modernist scene ought to try his work out, as there are plenty of fine moments.