Jukka Tiensuu: nemo-Puro-Spiriti


In the 1970s, Jukka Tiensuu (born 1948) challenged the conservative musical establishment in his native Finland with a push for openness to the techniques and languages of modernism. His music is a testament to his avid interest in all aspects of the avant-garde, and promiscuously blends chance elements, serialism, microtonality, extended instrumental techniques, and electronics. It’s perhaps surprising, then, that his music is so accessible and immediately likeable.

His techniques may sound like anathema to conservative concert-goers, and while he is certainly no lyrical neo-Romantic, he deploys his formidable modernist arsenal in the service of music that is directly communicative, emotionally evocative, and easy to follow. Nemo, for chamber ensemble, sampler, and live electronics, is genuinely fun, with a frisky, sparkling whimsicality. The acoustic instruments and electronics sometimes spar with each other and sometimes blend so seamlessly that they are indistinguishable. It’s a piece whose center of gravity is very high, with tiny, stratospheric sounds gleefully dancing between the channels. (Anyone listening with earphones should be warned that the sounds, though beautiful, can be piercing; this is a piece that is probably best appreciated on a nice, big, spaciously arranged sound system.)

Tiensuu’s affinity for vertiginous sonic altitudes is also evident in Puro, a concerto for clarinet and orchestra, in which he exploits the instrument’s highest range more extensively than its mellow chalumeau. It’s testimony to his craft as a composer and to soloist Kari Kriikku’s virtousity that the clarinet always sounds wonderful and never screechy. Mikko Luoma is the soloist in Spiriti, a five-movement concerto for accordion written much in the same vein, exploring magically exotic timbres with an inventive, playful unpredictability that sometimes lurches into sheer goofiness.

Susanna Mälkki leads the Avanti! Chamber Orchestra in remarkably assured performances of these treacherously difficult works, which are certainly much harder to play than they are to listen to. The sound of Alba’s SACD is clean and bright, with a strong sense of presence. The CD should appeal to fans of new music that is rigorously intelligent, sonically lustrous, and delightfully irreverent.

Label: Alba Records