VELI-MATTI PUUMALA: Chainsprings: Chainsprings; Seeds of Time – Roland Pöntinen, p./Tampere Philharmonic Orch./Hannu Lintu – Alba Records ABCD319 (Distr. by Albany), 64: 34 ****:
I have studied – and been fascinated by – the many new composers, new works and new styles that have emerged from Finland the past thirty years. The musical arts have flourished in Scandinavia, in general, and Finland in particular due to some government support and trends in their education system. One outcome has been what some have identified as a nearly characteristic sound featuring exotic orchestrations, ethereal harmonies and works that sound beautiful and eerie almost at once. One can very simplistically view the Finnish “style” as epitomized by composers such as Rautavaara, Aho and Saariaho.
Veli-Matti Puumala is a new name for me and one who, quite interestingly, represents a voice that echoes other styles; a more “European” palate. This is, none the less, very interesting music!
For openers, Chainsprings is one of a group of works by Puumula that contain the term “chains” in the title and which, in one way or another are structured as long, complex works made of smaller elements. The very helpful booklet notes by Ville Raasakka explain that Chainsprings is, essentially, a series of thirteen variations divided into what are four musical “quadros” or pictures. This is an extensive and complex work in which Puumala uses the orchestra to depict several different ethno-musical styles, such as Balkan folk music, French “spectral” music and Indonesian gamelan styles, among others. The references are textural though—a bit spectral and not at all obvious. Puumula acknowledges a debt to the “musical thinking of Lutoslawski” and certainly the sound is broad, kaleidoscopic and somewhat abstract. There are moments in Chainsprings where the styles being referenced are fairly easy to pick out but the composer’s use of intermittent cadenzas and what he calls “spazios” (open spaces) makes the net effect very dreamlike and indistinct. This is a complex work but a very interesting and creative one!
Seeds of Time is, basically, a mega-concerto for piano and orchestra but one which does not follow any of the classical conventions for a concerto. Seeds of Time won the Finnish Teosto Prize in 2005 after a commission from five different orchestras. The relationship between piano and orchestra and within the orchestra is very atypical. Puumala divides the orchestra into seven ensembles of various sizes and to various effects. The piano, too, is often a player within the groups and only occasionally used in pure soloistic fashion. The division of this work into three movements with many different musical styles being evoked reminds one of the structure of Chainsprings. In this case, the first movement, Turba (disturbance) evokes urban busy-ness and some early jazz seems to emerge from the textures. The second movement, Premura (haste) does have a choppy, hurried and insistent feel wherein the piano plays some ramblings that are evocative of Chopin while being joined or intruded upon by members of the several orchestral subgroups. The final movement, “The Arms of the Night” is broad, ethereal and quite nocturnal in its sound. There are long line solos for trumpet, clarinet and strings that are actually quite Italian and serenade like which get crashed upon by a chaotic piano cadenza before a stasis brings the work to a close. There are aspects to the whole of the nearly forty minute Seeds of Time that – subtitles included – feel very Italian (almost a chiaroscuro approach reminiscent of Maderna), not at all “Finnish”, and which illustrate the unique character of Puumala’s music.
This is a very unique and complex style of music and these two pieces are big; massive in their structural approach as well as in duration. According to booklet notes, much of Puumala’s music is written on a dense and large scale. Puumala studied with Paavo Heininen and is presently a composition professor at the Sibelius Academy. He represents a unique voice that I find very interesting. This music does require some careful listening and reading up while doing so is very helpful, but I think you would find this a bracing experience to keep up with the many trends in modern music intersecting across Scandinavia.
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