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Thomas FORTMANN (b. 1951)
Grafeneck 1940 (2015) [21:52]
Burla for Elena & Greta [8:56]
The Murder of a Buttercup [10:56]
Intermezzo Estatico [3:32]
Concertino Gregoriano (2014) [12:40]
Gimme Twelve [10:58]
Postlude [3:42]
Ettore Candela (organ)
Grazyna Jursza (flute)
Accademia Amiata Ensemble
Interharmony Arcidosso
Camerata Impuls/Malgorzata Kaniowska
Gaia Festival Ensemble
Ensemble Paul Klee
rec. 2015-19
MÉTIER MSV28598 [73:18]

My first observation is that none of these pieces have been given a date in the liner notes. Looking at the composer’s webpage does not provide much help but does solve the issue for two of them. Additionally, the composer seems shy about his date of birth. It does not seem to be mentioned anywhere in the CD documentation. I know from ‘research’ elsewhere that it is probably 1951. Surely this is nothing to be ashamed about. It is essential information required to form an understanding, contextualisation and appreciation of any composer’s music.

Biographically, Thomas Fortmann made a name for himself in the 1970s writing pop songs. Most of his hits were in Germany and Switzerland, but in the UK, Alexis Korner recorded some of his songs. After several years. Fortmann abandoned this genre and turned towards classical music. Subsequently he has written many ‘art songs’, two Symphonies, an oratorio and several concerti. Importantly, Fortmann has made a major contribution to music written for chamber ensembles.
His modus operandi is dodecaphonic music written in a very personal style. He is not totally wedded to the ‘series’ and is perfectly willing to introduce tonal elements into his works where this is appropriate. I guess I am sometimes reminded of Kurt Weill. But Thomas Fortmann is not tied to any one aesthetic. Jazz, ragtime and even hints of pop music feature in these scores.

This is the first CD of Fortmann’s music that I have heard so his music is new to me. Unfortunately, the liner notes give scant descriptions of each work. For example, the seriously impressive Gimme Twelve written for organ is stated simply as paying homage to Bach, Schoenberg and Messiaen. The composer has used some ‘letter to pitch’ conceit to derive themes from their names. That’s it! Apart from disliking the use if the word ‘Gimme’ – it is such an aggressively crass bit of slang - this is a superb piece of organ music.

Grafeneck 1940 is one of those compositions that I appreciate and rate, but certainly do not relish. I feel the same way about this expansive chamber piece as I do about Krzysztof Penderecki, Dies Irae, 1967 and Benjamin Frankel’s Violin Concerto ‘To the memory of the six million’, op. 24. Man’s inhumanity to man gets in the way of any possibility of enjoyment or pleasure. Usually, I can ignore programmes in music and appreciate them as abstract works. But with Grafeneck 1940 it is different. I cannot get ‘the 10654 mentally and physically handicapped people, who were murdered by the Nazi regime, in the first gas chamber at Castle Grafeneck in Germany in 1940’ out of my mind. It is a superbly written piece, but downright scary and troubling as befits the subject. The percussion part is memorable, as well as some of the more ‘tonal’ tunes that emerge ghost like from this score. I never want to hear this work again. So, it has had a major impact on me.

Burla for Elena & Greta was written for the composer’s children. It was inspired as he watched them playing under an oak tree at his home in Tuscany. The Burla is full of life, vibrancy and interesting instrumental combinations.

I am not sure that I like the idea of murdering buttercups. However, the liner notes explain that the title Murder of a Buttercup is based on a short story of that title by Alfred Döblin. It is about a businessman who thinks he has been haunted by a buttercup which he ‘murdered’ whilst walking in the forest. Fortmann explains that the story is ‘considered one of the seminal prose texts of expressionism.’ It is a colourful and enjoyable little piece if you dump the literary plot which I imagine has been subject to more analyses than it contains words.

I would not have guessed it, but the Concertino Gregoriano uses all the Gregorian modes (Dorian, Lydian, Phrygian etc.) somehow coupled to serialism. I would need to study the score to see how this operates. Yet, it is a splendid little concerto, that fairly bounces along and uses some traditional forms such as the opening Chaconne and the closing Gigue. The middle movement is quite introverted. The overall impact is ‘jazzy’.

Intermezzo Estatico is exactly what the title says. A piece that entertains whilst we wait for something else to happen or the scene to change. It is extracted from Fortmann’s opera Vaudeville für Leontine. It is quite forceful though, belying the usual significance of the title.
Postlude (from the same opera) is the final work on this CD. It has a touch of American Cabaret as seen through the eyes of Kurt Weill. This is a jazzy little work that is both enjoyable and well-wrought. The sad thing is that the ensemble playing it is quite specialised in instrumental makeup, possibly precluding wider performances in concert halls.

I have noted the lack of dates, and the rather too brief programme notes. The playing of this music is excellent by the multifarious performers. And the sound quality is superb.

I enjoyed most of the music on this new CD of works by Thomas Fortmann. It is good to hear a composer who works in the traditions of the Second Viennese School and its successors and is not afraid to admit it. This music is so much more rewarding than much of the sub-Einaudi ramblings that pass as serious music these days.

John France

Recording details
August 2017 Teatro degli Unanimi, Arcidosso, Italy (Grafeneck 1940); May 2018 Klösterli Oberhofen, Switzerland (Burla for Elena & Greta); June 2019 Conservatory Hall, Habsburg Palace Cieszyn, Poland (The Murder of a Buttercup); August 2018 Murten, Switzerland (Intermezzo Estatico, Postlude); July 2015 Teatro degli Unanimi, Arcidosso, Italy (Concertino Gregoriano); September 2019 Chiesa di Sant’Ermete, Forte dei Marmi, Italy (Gimme Twelve)

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