Swiss-born composer Thomas Fortmann is revealed here as a skillful and intuitive chamber music composer. His language is often old-fashioned, but his sense for timbral blending and his playfully neo-Baroque construction have a timeless appeal. You might expect, then, that he grew up with some kind of a strict Central European musical background and developed his knowledge of counterpoint via participation in church choirs. But in fact, Fortmann began his musical career as a successful rock musician and songwriter, having written for a number of well known European rock groups, and even wrote a popular, if controversial, musical ( Tell ).
In a way, the direct, overtly expressive manner of rock has served Fortmann well as a classical musician. All three of the works here also have subtitles, inferring an extra-musical narrative. The Piano Trio is his “Prolitheus Suite,” inspired by an artist friend. This well-constructed half-hour work is in six movements, in the manner of a Baroque suite, but the language is modern and accessible. Fortmann displays a notable range of dramatic effect, resulting in a fine contemporary example of the classic piano trio that is entertaining without any sense of pandering to a common denominator. The Violin Sonata is called “A Southern Diary,” as in the American South. This bright and lively work describes an impression of Houston University, a visit to a New Orleans jazz club, a sultry bluesy stay at a run-down Biloxi motel, and Joplin-inspired Alabama rag. The excellent violinist in this performance, Manrico Padovani, commissioned the four violin duos, subtitled “Con Pepe e Zucchero” (with pepper and sugar), which he had planned to play with Natasha Korsakova, the great-great granddaughter of Rimsky-Korsakov. Thus, the playful quote from Scheherazade , intermingled with Verdi and Liszt tunes. It is clever, elegant, and compelling, which is a good general description of Thomas Fortmann’s work in general.