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Lucien POSMAN (b.1952)
The Book of Los (2000)a
Ten Songs of Experience (1996)
To the Evening Star (2000)
To Morning (2000)
Els Crommen (soprano)a; Goeyvaerts Consort; Marc Legros (flute)a; Bart Meynckens (piano)a: Marc Michael De Smet
Recorded: Chapel of Bijloke Abbey, Gent, April 2002
CYPRÈS CYP 4616 [57:55]
Now in his early fifties, Lucien Posman, who studied – among others – with Roland Coryn, has a considerable body of works to his credit, mostly chamber, choral and vocal music as well as a 3-act chamber opera and a symphony (for whistler and orchestra). Many of his vocal and choral works set various poems by William Blake whose poetical work obviously means much to him. So, besides the choral works recorded here (all on texts by Blake), one may also mention a Christmas cantata Welcome Stranger to this Place (1999 - soloists, chorus, six winds and piano duet), Wheel within Wheel (1987 – soprano, trombone and small orchestra) and Hang your serious Song (2002 – baritone, chorus, double bass and piano), as well as other works setting a wide variety of texts.

Among Blake’s works, Songs of Experience seems to have had a considerable impact on the composer since he has composed 26 settings for various combinations (voice and piano, chorus with or without instruments, and a recent setting of The Tyger for two sopranos, chorus and harpsichord). In Songs of Experience, Blake confronts the harsh social situation of his time by parodying his own Songs of Innocence, thus showing "the two contrasting states of the Soul". Poems such as the ones set by Posman in his Ten Songs of Experience completed in 1996 (a first set of Five Songs of Experience also for mixed chorus was composed in 1988) express the poet’s often pessimistic reflections on some cruelly unjust social realities of his time, as in Holy Thursday ("Babes reduc’d to misery"), The Chimney Sweeper (which also indirectly inspired Britten’s The Little Sweep), The Little Vagabond, Infant Sorrow or The Schoolboy ("How can a child when fears annoy/But droop his tender wing/And forget his youthful spring?").

The Book of Los, completed in 2000, is an ambitious large-scale work for soprano, chorus, flute/piccolo/alto flute and piano in four movements. Blake’s long symbolic poem is in four chapters. It might be considered a choral symphony in all but the name. In the first chapter, Eno "the aged mother" ponders on times past, the oncoming of decay ("But Covet poured full/Envy fed with fat of lambs") and the advent of evil forces. Los ("the Eternal Prophet") bound in chains is "compell’d to watch Urizen’s shadow" surrounded by fires that "froze in a vast solid without fluctuation". The second and third chapters tell the story of the fall of Los and the creation of the elements. Los pulverises the substance in which he is caught and falls down thus liberating the four competing elemental forces: Blake’s version of the Big Bang theory. The fourth chapter deals with man’s creation, "a human illusion".

Two shorter works: To the Evening Star for mixed chorus and To Morning for female voices, both settings of early Blake poems composed in 2000, complete this fairly comprehensive survey of Posman’s recent choral output.

The common denominator of Posman’s Blake settings (at least, the ones recorded here) is their utter simplicity and straightforwardness. These generally syllabic settings avoid any complex polyphony instead moving on in wide-spread chords encompassing extreme registers. They are by no means easy to sing, though they conspicuously avoid any attempt at "modern" vocal writing. They put severe demands on singers, as far as attack and intonation are concerned, and the many challenges set by these scores are met with unfailing musicality and assurance in the Goeyvaerts Consort’s immaculate singing. There are, however, some subtle differences between The Book of Los which may be best experienced as a slow moving ritual and Ten Songs of Experience which call for and get a more varied approach.

This is music of great beauty and lyrical appeal, and there is much to relish in this beautifully simple but superbly crafted music that should appeal to choirs willing to explore some unfamiliar, challenging but ultimately rewarding repertoire. Warmly recommended.

Hubert Culot

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