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Cypres Records

Jean-Marie RENS (b. 1955)
Vibrations (2001) a
Trois petits poèmes lettristes (2000) b
Trois pièces (2002) c
Sept chansons traditionnelles (2002) d
Espace-Temps (1998) e
Musiques Nouvelles (a) Choeur Mondial des Jeunes (b) Georges Deppe (piano) (c) Nahandove (d) Laurette Prète (piano) (e) Orchestre Philharmonique de Liège et de la Communauté Françaisee; Denis Meniera
(a b) Pierre Bartholomée (e)
Recorded: Studio Dada, Brussels, January 2003 (Vibrations); Eglise Saint-Loup, Namur, January 2002 (Trois petits poèmes); Studio 1, Flagey, Brussels, July 2003 (Trois pièces) and September 2003 (Sept chansons); and (live) Salle Philharmonique, Liège, March 1998 (Espace-Temps) CYPRES CYP 4619 [73:02]

Although he was steeped in music from early on, playing the accordion in dance bands and piano in a jazz quartet for which he wrote his first attempts at composition, Jean-Marie Rens was a relatively ‘late starter’ as far as ‘serious’ composition is concerned. He entered the Brussels Conservatory after renouncing a promising career as a professional football player. There he studied with Jean-Claude Bartsoen and with Marcel Quinet, the latter being also a most distinguished composer whose work is presently shamefully neglected. Thus, Rens’ wide-ranging musical background (he is also a fan of Genesis) enables him to approach composition in complete freedom. As such, he might be compared to, say, Erkki-Sven Tüür and Mark-Anthony Turnage whose music clearly displays a similar unprejudiced, non-dogmatic approach, bearing the influence of jazz and rock, while clearly avoiding eclecticism. The five works recorded here, all fairly recent, provide for a fair assessment of his present compositional achievement.

Espace-Temps for orchestra was commissioned by the Orchestre Philharmonique de Liège and is dedicated to Pierre Bartholomée who conducted the first performance, heard here. It is a beautiful orchestral piece built around an important, though by no means concertante, piano part. It is a magnificent study in orchestral textures and has great strength as well as refinement.

Trois petits poèmes lettristes, composed for the Choeur Mondial des Jeunes and dedicated to its conductor Denis Menier, is something of a tour de force and a real challenge. It was written to be first performed by young singers from eight different countries and, what’s more, after a rather limited rehearsal time. The words were written by the Belgian jazz musician Arnould Massart who chose to write in an invented language meant to meet Rens’ objectives in terms of sound and rhythm. The first song actually sets vowel sounds, mostly, so that it is also an essay in sound textures; one is often reminded of Ligeti here, e.g. his Lux Aeterna. The second song, mostly slow and lyrical, and the lively, rhythmically alert final song ending with a sonorous boom, are sometimes redolent of some East-European folk songs (e.g. Tormis). This lovely work is a real gem if ever there was one.

The Trois pièces for piano also partake of Rens’ major preoccupations: the first piece Vibrations 2 and the second one Résonances (the latter drawing on the piano part from the orchestral work Espace-Temps) may roughly be compared with Vibrations for flutes and percussion. The final piece, Obsessions is a virtuoso Toccata of considerable rhythmic complexity.

In Sept chansons traditionnelles flamandes, françaises et wallonnes (to give the piece its full title), Rens enshrines the vocal part in a subtle and refined instrumental fabric (flute, cello and piano). These folk-song settings are roughly in the same line as André Souris’s rural cantata Le marchand d’images (1954/65, available on Cyprès CYP 7607) and Berio’s own lovely Folk Songs, although Rens’ settings are rather simpler and more straightforward than Berio’s. The instrumental parts are superbly written so as never to obscure the vocal part, superbly sung here by Els Crommen. They marvellously echo the various moods suggested by the words, by turns tender, sad (e.g. in the poignant fifth song Les cloches and in the final sad song Het daget in den Oosten literally re-composed by Rens) and ironic (as in the sixth song La bergère et le Monsieur in which the old gentleman speaks French whereas the shepherdess answers in Walloon!). This is one of the loveliest pieces that I have heard recently.

Rens’ beautifully made and strongly communicative music is superbly well served by all concerned. This attractive composer’s portrait is unreservedly recommended, and especially to all those who still have to be persuaded that present-day music may also be engaging and attractive. I urge you to give this magnificent release a try. You will not be disappointed.

Hubert Culot

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