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Lucien POSMAN (b. 1952)
O! Zon (1997)a
Songs of Experience (1986)b
Five Songs of Experience (1989)c
Symfonie één (1997)d
Rimsky-Korsakov Quarteta; Mikhail Lukonin (baritone)b; Victoria Evtodieva (soprano)c; Dmitry Makhovikov (clarinet)c; Yuri Serov (piano)bc;
St. Petersburg State Academic Capella Symphony Orchestrad; Edward Serovd
Recorded: St. Catherine Lutheran Church, October 1999 (O! Zon), November 1999 (Five Songs) and January 1999 (Songs of Experience); and State Academic Capella Concert Hall, December 1999 (Symphony)
DE RODE POMP RP/GMA 002 [73.42]


This review is a footnote to my earlier review of an all-Posman release (Cyprès CYP 4616) available here some time ago. The present release is published by De Rode Pomp, a concert organisation in Gent of which Lucien Posman is a director and that, besides setting-up interesting recitals often including rarely heard and contemporary works, either by Belgian or foreign composers, has also released several discs.

William Blake’s verse holds something of an obsession for Lucien Posman who has set all but one of Blake’s Songs of Experience and many other words by him. There are at present about twelve Blake settings for various vocal and instrumental combinations : four separate settings of Songs of Experience (voice and piano [1986 and 1988], voice, clarinet/oboe and piano [1988] and mixed chorus [1996], the latter available on Cyprès CYP 4616) and eight other Blake settings, such as the Christmas cantata Welcome Stranger to this Place (1999), The Book of Los (2000, soprano, chorus, flute and piano, also on Cyprès CYP 4616), Wheel within Wheel (1987, soprano, trombone and ensemble), The Book of Thel (2001, mezzo-soprano and ensemble) and The Mental Traveller (2002, soprano and recorder, recently arranged for small ensemble). The present release includes two of these cycles : Songs of Experience (1988, voice and piano) and Five Songs of Experience (1988, voice, oboe/clarinet and piano). Songs of Experience opens boldly with a declamatory setting of Introduction ("Hear the voice of the Bard!) to which Earth’s Answer offers a more reflective and more questing response, ending however with a question mark. The Fly is a subdued setting reflecting on the fragility of life. The grim tale of Nurse’s Song is finally offset by Ah! Sun-flower that ends the cycle. Five Songs of Experience is for voice, oboe or clarinet and piano. It opens with A Little Boy Lost sung unaccompanied at first before the clarinet joins in a dialogue with the voice to which the piano adds heavy chords. My Pretty Rose Tree is set as a slightly ironic serenade while The Lilly functions as a short, whimsical interlude. The Garden of Love depicts a desolate landscape by way of a slightly disjointed vocal part and A Little Girl Lost ends the cycle, again in a rather ironic mood.

Although his music is generally quite serious, even if his output does actually include some lighter pieces with witty titles, Posman does not take himself all too seriously and allows some touch of humour either in his music or in the titles of his pieces. His string quartet O! Zon, completed in 1997, is one such work. In fact, the title ambiguously suggests some sort of hymn to the Sun, for O! Zon may be read as the equivalent of Oh! Sun (but it may also be read as the Dutch for ‘ozone’). The music, however, is not only quite serious, but also – and most importantly, I think – quite beautiful. The piece in one single movement falling into several linked sections roughly laid-out in arch-form opens mysteriously (with trills and glissandi) and then moves forward into a livelier section still characterised by trills and punctuated by pizzicati. The music seamlessly unfolds towards the climax of the piece that dissolves into a slower, song-like section in which Posman alludes to one of his Blake settings (The Vagabond) before reverting to the opening mood.

Symfonie één (i.e. simply ‘Symphony One’) is a compact work also in a fairly straightforward arch-form, which may be listened to as a short symphony held together by some thematic material or as a tone poem of some sort. The energetic opening section moves along boldly, underpinned by the muffled beating of the bass drum which will incidentally punctuate the music throughout the whole piece. It leads into a short scherzo-like section that in turn leads into the slow, nocturnal section with a prominent part for whistler (a rather surprising, unexpected touch, this, but – believe me – it works marvellously). This section has a more animated central section before returning to the nocturnal mood of its opening. A varied restatement of the opening section abruptly bursts in, briefly relaxes in a short meditative passage before rushing the music to a brightly assertive ending. I have suggested that Symfonie één might also be heard as a tone poem; for, while listening to this colourful piece, I could not help but imagine the composer strolling through the streets of Gent and reflecting both on the City’s past (the nostalgic slow section) and present (the bustling opening and closing sections as well as the short Scherzo). Well, yes, I may be wrong anyway, and this is actually of little importance. The important thing is that Posman’s symphony is a jolly good piece of music that I enjoyed enormously.

Performances and recording are generally good, without being outstanding. The English pronunciation of the Russian singers is sometimes a bit unidiomatic, without being damagingly so. The piece for string quartet and the symphony get excellent readings. However, as a whole, this release offers a well-planned and enjoyable composer’s portrait. Well worth investigating.

Hubert Culot


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