Beginning his career as a songwriter/rock musician, Swiss composer Thomas Fortmann has, since the age of 26, devoted his career to the composition of art music. His compositional style is rather complex; he draws on techniques established by the likes of Schoenberg and Hindemith, but does not imitate them directly, thus making a language that is truly all his own.

The foundations of serialism are strong, although Fortmann serializes not only the 12 tones of the octave, but rhythms and even intervals as well. Although this may give listeners the impression that his compositions are more technical and academic than musical, this is not the case. The Tango Catolico (for string quartet) is fascinating work that amazingly morphs an almost liturgical sound into a vibrant tango. The centerpiece of the album is Fortmann’s “Requiem for an Unborn Child,” a rather ominous-sounding subject matter to be sure. Scored for clarinet, violin, cello, piano, and soprano, the sparse texture and effective text-painting allow listeners to focus on the meaning Fortmann is trying to get across.

The performance itself, however, is only adequate. Only soprano Danielle Jungblut appears to be invested in her part. The instrumentalists seem at times to only be going through the motions of playing the notes; as a result, intonation and sound quality frequently suffer. Still, the compositions and subject matter are sufficiently interesting to warrant giving this album a try.

Performance ×××× Sound ××××

—Mike Brownell