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Hubert Culot
MusicWeb International, December 2011

Until fairly recently Tiensuu’s music was regarded as complex and rather avant-garde. His most recent works, however, as the ones recorded here show a greater stylistic freedom and a new compositional trend in his music making characterised by a real enjoyment of the orchestra’s full register. © MusicWeb International

David Hurwitz, July 2011

Like many modern composers, Jukka Tiensuu spends a lot of time (no doubt) coming up with intriguing titles for his works, to what end I have no idea. God only knows what “Vie” is, or why we should care about “False Memories”. “Missa” is a clarinet concerto, and a very good one, but its relationship to the various sections of the Latin Mass is tenuous at best. Nevertheless, and unlike so many of his colleagues, Tiensuu writes music that’s worth getting to know. He’s fond of syncopated rhythms in his more energetic moments (of which there are many), and he knows how to use them to vitalize his textures.

Vie, in particular, which he calls a “concerto for orchestra” (a better name than the one he ultimately settled for), marries interesting thematic material with some very distinctive scoring. In Missa, the always excellent Kari Kriikku takes the challenging solo part and invests it with an abundance of color and feeling, and the music (titles or not) is highly varied and well-contrasted. In short, this is a very appealing release for fans of contemporary music, and another important addition to the ever-growing repertoire of fine Finnish composers in the Ondine catalog.

Peter Burwasser
Fanfare, July 2011

The music of Northern Europe has always tended to be of a conservative nature, Brahms being a kind of patron saint. But a new generation of composers has shed much of the stodginess of the region, including such figures as Finland’s Magnus Lindberg, the Danish composer Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, and another Finn, Jukka Tiensuu. Tiensuu is no lad; he emerged as a new figure on the Finnish scene in the 1970s. He was an early adopter of the then novel concept that a composer need not choose a specific academic musical language to work in and then stick to it. As is now commonplace, Tiensuu has long embraced an eclectic range of techniques and styles in his writing. He can sound brashly modernistic, and then, a moment later, lushly expressive.

The challenge of such an approach is in making all the bits and pieces cohere into a single vision, in which the seams of the creation are not necessarily showing. Tiensuu is generally successful at achieving this ideal, more so in the larger works that are featured on the Ondine release. Vie is a new work, from 2007, structured as a concerto for orchestra. This is Tiensuu at his best: pithy, virtuosic, surprising, and expressive. It deserves to be heard by a larger audience, perhaps as a concert opener on a symphony program. Missa is a seven-movement clarinet concerto, sharing many of the virtues of Vie, but with a challenging role for the soloist. Kari Kriikku has championed many other new works, including all of the music for clarinet by Lindberg, and Tiensuu’s Puro. His playing is daring and alert, even as Tiensuu’s music compels him to make sounds that are at times harsh and even ugly. False Memories I–III is another mature work, notable for especially deft writing for brass.

The Alba CD consists of a group of shorter works for chamber ensembles of various sizes and configurations. In general, this collection displays a more playful and experimental side of the composer. But as is the case in the chemistry lab, not all experiments are successful. In my review of an earlier Alba CD of Tiensuu’s music, I was confronted with “making a judgment as to when experimentation translated into true artistic expression, and when it was a self-indulgent manipulation of sound for mere novelty.” An example of the kind of sound-for-its-own-sake material occurs in Oddjob, for cello and electronics, which I find difficult to listen to. But then there is the charmingly quirky music for accordion, and the skillful use of jazzy syncopated rhythm. Tombeau de Beethoven is a movingly devout homage to the great master, full of quotes, and floating along at a dreamy, deliberate pace. It is the music of an artist of our time who is not embarrassed to acknowledge the giants of the past.

Guy Rickards
Gramophone, April 2011

Jukka Tiensuu (b1948) never gives clues to the meanings of his works’ titles so it is more rewarding to focus on the music itself. Ondine’s disc features three works composed in 2007–08 and running for longer durations still. The three-in-one design of Vie (French “life” or the English verb for “strive”?), subtitled a “concerto for orchestra”, makes for a vital and invigorating concert-opener. The suite False Memories I–III (subtitled “Morphoses”) is of similar outward design, fast outer sections framing a quiet central span. In between comes Tiensuu’s third concertante work for clarinet, Missa, the six movements linking to sections of the Catholic Mass. Kari Kriikku and John Storgårds—who premiered the work in Glasgow—provide a vivid account.

The recorded sound…is first-class…richer and more spacious…satisfying…my recommendation is to buy…!

Ira Byelick
American Record Guide, March 2011

These recent works are masterly, daring, and composed with a sure hand and ear; they are replete with the confidence of a person completely comfortable with his medium, who has much yet to say. The Helsinki Philharmonic is brilliant.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, January 2011

All world première recordings, the selections on this new release from Ondine featuring orchestral works by Finnish composer Jukka Tiensuu (b. 1948) will stretch the appreciation envelope of late romanticists, delight modernists, and wow audiophiles! Like his compatriot Esa-Pekka Solonen (b.1955), he’s a magnificent colorist who writes cinematically fervent music brimming over with kinetic energy. But he’s loath to comment about any of his works, so you’ll have to come up with your own interpretation of them.

Subtitled “A Concerto for Orchestra,” his Vie from 2007 is in one movement, and begins with insistent scurrying strings that are soon overpowered by the percussion and brass. Everything grinds to a halt as mysterious iridescent “Neptunian” passages with shimmering winds and occasional trombone glissandi appear. But not for long as the music accelerates into an express train scherzo that gradually slows. Then in the spirit of Honegger’s (1892–1955) Pacific 231 (1923), the engine builds up another head of steam, and speeds on down the track. Those who’ve seen the recent movie Unstoppable (2010) may find Vie its symphonic counterpart!

The Finns seem to have a real knack for turning out superb clarinet concertos—Magnus Lindberg’s (b. 1958) highly acclaimed one from 2002 comes immediately to mind—and the next selection is no exception! It’s Tiensuu’s Missa for solo clarinet and orchestra (2007). In seven sections, the first six are named after parts of the Latin Mass. The last is titled “Ite,” which in Latin means “Go,” probably here in a recessional sense.

The beginning “Introitus” is reserved with a dulcet toned clarinet seemingly invoking the presence of God. Anguished shrieks and klezmer outbursts…rend the “Kyrie” and “Gloria,” giving the soloist opportunities for some virtuosic shenanigans that include the clarinet equivalent of Bronx cheers.

The Credo takes the form of a rhythmically captivating hootchy-kootchy number that builds to a percussive climax, and ends in a soft-shoe routine. It sets the stage for the jazzy spastic “Sanctus” that concludes with a spectacular clarinet cadenza, and pungent orchestral chords that could be out of Leonard Bernstein (1918–1990).

The Agnus Dei opens as gentle as a lamb, but stabbing phrases soon emanate from the clarinet, reverberating through the orchestra. As they fade away, calm is restored and the closing “Ite” follows immediately. It ends the work with some antsy passagework for soloist and orchestra, and a final inscrutable pp note on the clarinet made all the more arcane by a celesta descant.

The final selection is False Memories I–III written in 2008. Subtitled “Morphoses for Orchestra,” the first memory, “Review,” with its jagged rhythms and ff outbursts once again brings Bernstein to mind, but there’s a kinetic skittishness that would seem to be a Tiensuu trademark. Listening to it one can phantasize a prehistoric earth sequence like the one Walt Disney (1901–1966) set Stravinsky’s (1882–1971) Rite of Spring (1913, revised 1947) to in Fantasia (1940).

In the next memory, “Nostalgy,” the upper strings, winds, celesta and vibraphone conjure up images of lingering mists floating over some primeval landscape implied by the lower instruments and percussion. A solo trumpet adds to the mystery, recalling Charles Ives’ (1874–1954) The Unanswered Question (1906).

The fog slowly lifts in the concluding “Trauma,” revealing swooping pterodactyls and darting dragonflies. Shrieks of prehistoric beasts echo over magmatic plains, and then die away as this lost world fades from sight.

Founded in 1882 by Robert Kajanis (1856–1933) the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra has become one of the world’s finest. That’s quite evident on this release, which finds them under their current conductor Finnish-born John Storgårds. They perform Tiensuu’s music with an energetic abandon perfectly suited to its chimerical disposition.

That’s particularly true of Missa, which technically as well as expressively must be one of the most challenging clarinet concertos ever written! But not for Kari Kriikku who plays it to perfection, making it a worthy successor to Magnus Lindberg’s…which he also premièred.

Done on separate occasions in Finlandia Hall, Helsinki, the recordings are phenomenal! Calling for a large orchestra with substantial percussion, this music will test the limits of the best systems. The soundstage is expansive, but the clarinet as well as the many other instrumental solos that animate this music are perfectly balanced and focused.

From the silvery tintinnabulation of the celesta down to the gut-felt thud of the bass drum, the instrumental timbre is completely natural over the extensive dynamic range of these recordings. Audiophiles will want to take this CD along the next time they audition new equipment.

Hubert Culot
MusicWeb International, January 2011

This brand new release from Ondine offers three recent works by Tiensuu. They help considerably in appreciating his evolution over the last few years.

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.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group