Fanfare

This is fascinating. Swiss-born Thomas Fortmann (b.1951) spent the first part of his life immersed in the world of rock music, something he abandoned at the age of 26. This disc is entitled In Dust We Trust. Fortman, unlike some of his peers, seems to have entered into the arena of contemporary classical music successfully.

Fortmann demonstrates a certain manic trait, something revealed explicitly in the second and sixth movements of his Piano Trio (“Prolitheus Suite”). The second movement is actually based on Scriabin’s “Mystic Chord” (linking to the wordplay of the title on the artist O. F. Plenninger, and, of course, Prometheus). A pity the recording quality is rather harsh, as it makes for an uncomfortable ride (it was recorded in KUHF Studios, Houston). The Blues movement that follows comes as some relief, although it quickly becomes apparent this is no laid-back number. Rather, it is shot through with a feeling of unrest. Working with the 12 tones, the “Rondo fmto” is nicely acerbic, but the finest movement is the fourth, entitled “Romantico” but in reality nothing of the sort. Inspired by the line, “From Heaven comes Hell,” it speaks of empty voids. Every time it hints at its title, it veers off again into the musical equivalent of blackness. The composer’s own explanatory notes are quite dense in terms of actually explaining the compositional techniques he used, but as he (finally) states, the proof is in the listening. All credit to the performers, who exude concentration throughout.

The Violin Sonata is in fact a sort of travel diary, arising from a trip after the premiere of the composer’s Second Symphony. Fortmann seeks to mix and marry music of the Southern states with more European gestures. The 12-tone first movement is entitled “Houston University” and depicts the time the composer spent on campus around the time of the Symphony’s premiere. It is wide- ranging, presumably reflecting the gamut of emotions the composer experienced at this time. Padovani is a fine violinist. Dixieland jazz infuses “New Orleans at Fritzel’s,” which occasionally gets sucked into a more progressive, 12-tone area. Padovani’s sweet high register is beautifully caught. The story of “Biloxi Motel” is amusingly recounted in the booklet notes; suffice it to say it is a blues rendered with 12-tone intent. A ragtime, “Alabama Breeze,” constitutes the Finale. It is tremendous fun (a Joplin theme appears once in the bass). It was after the recording of this Sonata that the violinist requested a piece for two violins. The title, “Con Pepe e Zucchero,” refers to Fortmann’s style: poppy and full of surprises: “pepper and sugar.” The first movement, “Blues Cattolico” (“cattolico” meaning all-embracing), explores both blues and fugue, fascinatingly. The two players here, Padovani and Korsakova, work beautifully together. Natasha Korsakova is a great- great-granddaughter of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. So, Rimsky (Scheherazade), Paganini (24th Caprice), and Verdi (from Manricd) all coexist in the second movement. It is an interesting collage, playful at times. A nice idea to render 12-tone music in restrained classical rhythms for the ensuing “Dodecafollia” before the final “Alinghi,” in the composer’s own words a “water and wind fantasy” which ends rather abruptly.

An interesting curio rather than a revelatory experience, I would suggest.

—Colin Clarke