“THOMAS FORTMANN: In Dust We Trust” = Piano Trio: “Prolitheus Suite”; Sonata for Violin and Piano: “A Southern Diary”; Four Pieces for Two Violins: “Con Pepe e Zucchero” – Andrzej Grabiec (Piano Trio), Manrico Padovani, and Natasha Korsakova (Four Pieces), violin /Mischa Quint, cello /Carlo Alessandro Lapegna (Piano Trio) & Akemi Masuko, piano – Métier msv28534 [Distr. by Naxos], 60:56 ***:
Maybe I’m missing something, but I’m not sure why this album is whimsically titled In Dust We Trust. None of the works on it are so entitled, and there is no mention of In Dust, etc. anywhere in the notes to the recording. The album title does lend itself to an equally whimsical and puzzling cover illustration, so maybe I shouldn’t try to analyze things too deeply. It’s obvious that unpredictability is Swiss composer Thomas Fortmann’s shtick: he started life as a very successful rocker but in his twenties abandoned the rock scene for a serious study of music. The upshot is that Fortmann’s quite an eclectic, with stylistic references that run the gamut from serialism to pop. [We Swiss are accused of not having a sense of humor, but some of us have a very off-the-wall streak. I have to admit I selected this disc for review mostly because of its cover photo…Ed.]
A case in point is the Piano Trio, quirkily subtitled “Prolitheus Suite.” The first movement, Ouverture sacrale, is gratingly dissonant enough to be the musical equivalent of fingernails clawing a chalkboard. That’s quickly followed by a movement entitled Estatico, which is chock-a-block with jazzy syncopations that keep the music zipping along. Next up, Blue, with a bluesy melody and more slides on the string instruments than you’d hear from a bluegrass band. Romantico does wax rather romantic, the music slow and slinky, with the strings again slip-sliding away. The capper, Finale con fuoco, sounds like the work of a crazy dance band, with wild stops and starts and off-beat rhythms, along with the occasional on-the-beat rhythm. It’s a dizzying stylistic mix, which is good preparation for the other pieces on the program.
As to the subtitle of the piece, Fortmann explains: “The title emerged out of my friendship to the artist O. F. Pfenninger, called Oli (PrOLItheus). He has tirelessly devoted the last 15 years to creating a gigantic work of art, with which he literally steals the fire from the ‘art-Gods’ (PROmeTHEUS).” Since Oli is a positive force in the art world—more PRO than he is con—and since his themes are universally PROLetarian, he has won for himself the moniker PROLITHEUS. The Piano Trio seems to be tribute to the aforementioned work of art—at least that’s how I read the following: “Although the Trio emerges in the musical form of a Suite, the work Suite here mainly refers to his installation as an interior design.” Hope this clarifies matters for you. But if it doesn’t, you’re not alone.
Just as mystifying is Fortmann’s explanation of his use of twelve-tone technique: “The first movement (“Ouverture sacrale”) is a composition which features eight possible derivations of its original motif, consisting of twelve tones that overlap each other. Antagonistic to most twelve-tone theories (but in agreement with the founders of this technique), the series I create are always meant to be a theme. However an analysis is certainly not easy because even though I mainly appropriate linear scales within this movement, they often switch from one instrument to another, causing a sort of breaking in the line.” I’ll take the composer’s word for it; certainly, as I’ve hinted above, the movement has a definite “broken” quality about it as the dissonances pile up on each other like the buckling of tectonic plates.
The Violin Sonata subtitled “A Southern Diary” again employs twelve-tone technique but has such a high pop-cultural content that Schoenberg and Webern will be FAR from your mind as you listen. The jazzy second movement is an evocation of New Orleans jazz clubs, while the third and fourth movements are given over to the blues and ragtime respectively. This is the most immediately appealing piece on the program.
Violinist Manrico Padovani commissioned Four Pieces for Two Violins. Fortmann modestly notes, “He wanted it to come with all the hallmarks of my previous compositions, peppy and full of surprises, like pepper with sugar (Con Pepe e Zucchero).” The promised surprises include a first movement that combines blues and fugues (and which sounds just as mixed-up as you can imagine it would) plus a second movement with some crazy musical conflations à la Charles Ives. So here we have Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade (a tribute to violinist Natasha Korsakova, Rimsky’s great-great-granddaughter, no less) wedded to Paganini’s Twenty-fourth Caprice and Manrico’s theme from La Traviata (in tribute to Manrico Padovani). Man oh Manrico!
Well, you probably know already whether Fortmann’s music is for you. It’s certainly not dull and is often quite entertaining, even grin-inducing, though I’m not sure how often I’ll want to listen to it again (probably not a lot). The studio recording is very close-up, airless in the manner of a pop recording—not my cup of tea, but it might be the right acoustic for Fortmann’s pop-influenced musical brew.