in Reviews

Finnish landscapes, family likenesses

by Martin Anderson

Lauri Porra reveals in the first sentence of his booklet commentary that he is the great-grandson of Jean Sibelius – but it’s more by way of explaining his musical background than to trade on the relationship.

Nevertheless, at least to some extent, Sibelius then becomes the elephant in the room – but, happily, Lauri Porra’s (b. 1977) own musical personality is sufficiently individual for the pachyderm in question to be seen in proper perspective. Even so, it would seem that effective writing for horns runs in the family DNA.

Kohta has a variety of meanings in Finnish (‘point’, ‘place’ and more), none of which seems to be especially relevant to the understanding of the piece, which a century ago would have been billed as a tone-poem, rhapsody or something of the sort: like a latter-day Liszt, Porra uses an evolving form, adding a Finnish rapper and a percussionist to the orchestra – and it’s ambitious (it fills nearly nineteen minutes), but then all the music in this album is conceived on a broad canvas. 

Kohta (2016) is genuinely exciting, aided by Paperi T’s impassioned delivery of his rap texts (which are not so far from the runic incantations of the Kalevala) and Porra’s ability to suggest immense musical landscapes at work beneath the surface – though perhaps those of Ligeti and Norheim rather than those of his illustrious ancestor – imbues Kohta with a sense of scale, which his percussion outbursts rim with fiery energy. 

The album closes with an instrumental version of Kohta, where I was surprised to find that I missed the presence of Paperi T: the work sprawls a little without him – but the thrilling fast sections nonetheless stir the tripes as before. 

The three-movement, seventeen-minute Domino Suite (2017), for orchestra with drum and piano soloists, opens with innocent piano chords that seem to awaken the bass reaches of the orchestra until the comparison with one of Sibelius’ dawn-pictures becomes unavoidable; here and there the scenery is more directly reminiscent of Hollywood than of Lake Tuusula, although rising, echt-Sibelian horn calls (under an extended percussion riff) eventually pull the music back home, with the closing of the Fifth Symphony not very far away at all. 

The longest work here is Entropia (2015), a 28-minute, four-movement concerto for electric bass and orchestra – but with the bass guitar more as a concertante element, a source of additional colour rather than as a traditional, look-at-me soloist at the centre of the action (hence the title, I guess). 

Here, too, the music has a strong sense of place, rising twice in the first movement to a kind of hieratic decisiveness reminiscent of the New York composer Arnold Rosner. The second movement is a scherzo with a jollier version of the malevolent power of Florent Schmitt’s wind-band Dionysiaques, and a folky background flavour (that’s the modality at work). The third is a slow chase and the fourth a relaxed but noble landscape: if the booklet hadn’t told me that Porra writes film music, I might have guessed it by now. 

I’ve not heard a Lahti recording where the players don’t put their hearts and souls into it, and one has to take the composer’s satisfaction for granted; the sound is of the usual BIS stellar standard, too. A pity that there’s no translation of Paperi T’s rap texts, but that’s a small blot on these impressive landscapes.


LAURI PORRA: Kohta (vocal and instrumental versions); Domino Suite; Entropia

Paperi T, vocals; Samuli Kosminen, percussion; Vili Ollila, organ; Fàtima Boix Cantó, clarinet; Joonas Riippa, drum set; Aki Rissanen, piano; Lauri Porra, electric bass; Lahti Symphony Orchestra, cond. Jaakko Kuusisto