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Nicolae BRETAN (1887–1968)
Songs
Ruxandra Donose (mezzo); Julius Drake (piano)
rec. Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, U.K. 6-7 July 2005
texts and English translations included
NIMBUS NI 5809
[69:35]


Sound Sample - excerpt

Stelele-n cer (Stars in the sky)






1. Şi dacă ramuri bat ǐn geam (And if branches beat against the window) [2:07]
2. Cucule, de ce nu vii (Cuckoo, why don’t you return) [2:30]
3. Rea de plată (The reluctant debt payer) [1:56]
4. Nut e-ai priceput! (You were such a knucklehead!) [4:10]
5. Ǐn parcul Luxemburg (In Luxemburg garden) [4:05]
6. Pe lǐngă plopii fără soţ (Where mateless poplars grow) [2:03]
7. Noapte de vară (Summer night) [5:42]
8. Gazel (Gazel) [2:25]
9. Ideal (Illusion) [22:41]
10. Ǐn fereastra dinspre mare (At the window on the sea) [2:27]
11. O, vin pe mare (Come down to the sea) [2:14]
12. Lună, lună, stea vicleană (Moon, moon, you wily star) [1:09]
13. Pe aceeaşi ulicioară (On the same lane) [2:25]
14. La groapa lui Laie (At the grave of Laie) [5:56]
15. Ş-acele dulci păreri de rău (And that sweet remorse) [1:33]
16. Prea sus aţi fost! (So far above!) [2:59]
17. Stelele-n cer (Stars in the sky) [3:03]

Nicolae Bretan was born on 25 March 1887 in Naszod, Hungary and died on 1 December 1968 in Cluj, Romania. Insofar as he is known at all in the West it is for his operas, which are among the best of Romanian operas: Luceafarul, Golem, Horia and Arald have all been recorded by Nimbus. That he is so little known is certainly due to the fact that he was made a ‘non person’ by the Communist Regime. Besides being composer, conductor and critic he was also a singer. It is the song writing that "runs like a connecting thread through his entire creative life". He set Romanian texts but also Hungarian and German. On the present disc, and a companion disc from the renowned baritone Alexandru Agache, Nimbus pay a well deserved tribute to this part of his oeuvre. I hope that the public interest will be big enough for this enterprise to pay off.

I must admit to not being particularly well informed about Nicolae Bretan, even though I knew the name. Listening through this disc during a couple of sittings and returning to certain songs for a second hearing I have to report a steadily growing enthusiasm for his music. After just a couple of songs I realised that he has a voice of his own, not easy to define, but it is highly accessible music, tonal and eminently well wrought for the human voice and with tunes that stick. Several songs are quite simply structured, strophic settings while others are elaborated and through-composed. His choice of poems encompasses lyrical reflection as well as humoristic narrative and the longest item, Ideal (tr. 9) is an almost 23-minute-long ballad in four sections – it might as well be described as a song-cycle. The melodies seem to come directly from the Romanian soil – there is nothing calculated or artificial about them. The accompaniments are unobtrusive but efficient and Julius Drake is as usual a listening pianist – the ideal partner for any singer.

Those who still doubt my judgement should lend an ear to the first two songs, the atmospheric Summer night (tr. 7), the evocative At the window on the sea (tr. 10) with some Sibelian echoes, the light and beautiful Come down to the sea (tr. 11) or On the same lane (tr. 13). The dark At the grave of Laie (tr. 14) is nine stanzas long but each stanza has its own melodic material. The concluding Stars in the sky (tr. 17) is another gem - contemplative and beautiful.

So much for the songs. The singing is another bait. Ruxandra Donose’s operatic career has brought her to most of the major stages of the world, and with her beautiful, rounded mezzo-soprano and her deep involvement she is just as apt at tackling the more intimate art of Lieder. Singing in her mother tongue she relishes the poems and we are offered marvellously assured and refined singing. Many of the songs are on a relatively intimate scale and Ms Donose often sings with restraint. She also has at her disposal deep contralto chest-notes and at the other end of the range a silvery top.

I am eager to return to these songs in such compelling readings. I look forward to hearing the companion disc, where Agache includes several songs that Ruxandra Donose also sings.

The liner-notes are compiled from Hartmut Gagelmann’s book Nicolae Bretan: His Life – His Music, and there are full texts and line by line translations. Nimbus clearly belongs to the rank of companies that refuse to compromise on production values. There is no way of finding fault with the recording.

Since I believe that a majority of our readers are just as unfamiliar with the works of Nicolae Bretan as I was, I can only urge those interested in good songs and superlative singing to investigate this issue. It should yield a good return.

Göran Forsling

Further Bretan songs here

Other Bretan reviews

My Lieder-Land Volume 1

My Lieder-Land Volume 2 RECORDING OF THE MONTH (April)

SONGS Ruxandra Donose (sop)

SONGS Alexandru Agache (baritone)

Sacred Songs

Horia - Opera

Golem, Arald - Operas

 


 


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