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Nicolae BRETAN (1887–1968)
Sacred Songs

Requiem [22:57] (1. I. Introitus [3:46]; 2. II Graduale [1:25]; 3. III. Dies Irae [5:11]; 4. IV. Offertorium [3:10]; 5. V. Sanctus [1:18]; 6. VI. Pie Jesu [1:44]; 7. VII. Agnus Dei [6:23])
8. Născătoare de Dumnezeu (Ave Maria) [2:30]
9. Tatăl nostru (The Lord’s Prayer) [3:03]
10. Kis, karácsonyi ének (Small Christmas Song) [1:28]
11. Közel a temetőhöz (Close by the Graveyard) [2:46]
12. Isten drága pénze (God’s Bankrupting Loan) [4:35]
13. Krisztus-Kereszt az erdön (Christ-Cross in the Forest) [3:31]
14. Az úr érkezése (God’s Arrival) [2:10]
15. Imádság háború után (Prayer after War) [4:47]
16. A halál rokona (Death’s Kinsman I) [3:47]
17. A Sion-Hegy alatt (Under Mount Zion) [5:34]
18. Amen [1:52]
19. Futurum imperfectum [1:42]
20. Mors imperator [2:43]
21. Por és virág [Dust and Flowers] [4:02]
22. Ti ejbe hullo órák (Your Hours Slipping into Night [1:19]
23. Vándorutam (Wanderings’ End) [1:48]
24. A Csucsai kert (The Gardens of Csucsa) [1:54]
25. Síriratok (Epitaphs) [3:38]
Ludovic Konya (baritone) (all except tr. 4, 5), Phyllis Bryn-Julson (soprano)(tr. 4, 5, 7), Donald s. Sutherland (organ) (tr. 1-7), Ronald Stalford (organ) (tr. 8-14), Ferdinand Weiss (piano) (tr. 15, 16, 18-24), Martin Berkovsky (piano) (tr. 17, 25).
rec. live, Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church, Maryland, USA, 8 September 1974 (tr. 1-7); live, Christ Church, Georgetown, Washington DC, USA, 14 March 1976 (tr. 8-14); live, Franz Liszt Music Academy, Budapest, 21 September 1973 (tr. 15, 16); at the home of Judit and Harry le Bovit, McLean, Virginia, USA (studio), March/April 1976 (tr. 17, 25); Radio Cluj, Romania (studio), 16 June 1974 (tr. 18-22); 23 June 1974 (tr. 23); Library of Congress, Washington DC, USA (studio), 24 August 1974.
Tr. 1-7 sung in Latin, tr. 8-9 sung in Romanian, tr. 10-25 sung in Hungarian
Texts with English and French translations and German summaries enclosed.
NIMBUS NI 5584 [76:06]

Experience Classicsonline


Not long ago I reviewed two Nimbus discs with songs by Nicolae Bretan (Ruxandra Donose) (Alexandru Agache). I was very enthusiastic then, so enthusiastic that Len Mullenger ordered up another selection of Bretan records. I will be assessing these during the next few weeks.

Bretan occupies a very special place in the history of Romanian music but due to his political standpoint – he refused to become a member of the Communist party after the war – was declared a ‘non person’. His works were not allowed to be performed. It is an invaluable service to the music-loving public that Nimbus has issued his songs and no less than four operas. His is a very distinctive voice in 20th century music – not due to revolutionary harmonic and structural invention but through a deeply humanist approach and a melodic tonal language with roots in both Romanian and Hungarian folk music. He speaks to people as it were through time and across borders. There is in this music a Gluckian purity and a Mussorgskian nakedness and yet it is intensely individual. Simplicity is a keyword for him¸ there is nothing showy or artful – just warmth and humanity. The accompaniments are mostly sparse; they do not call attention to themselves.

This volume opens with his Requiem, composed between February and July 1932 and thus positioned between his early operas from the 1920s and the later ones from the late 1930s and 1940s. This work is symptomatic of his creative mind: there is no chorus, the accompaniment is a simple organ part, a solo baritone sings four of the movements, a solo soprano sings Offertorium and Sanctus and the two voices unite in the concluding Agnus Dei – simple and ‘pealed off’. And the music speaks so sincerely to you. It may be blasphemous to say that the melodies are ‘catchy’ – but that is exactly what they are! Catchy in the sense that they are simple, heartfelt, devoted and unavoidable. The opening Introitus, extremely beautiful, grabs hold of you and you are caught and held until the end of the work. Graduale is short but wonderful and Konya scales down his voice to a soft half-voice, almost crooning but without sentimentality. Dies Irae is powerful, as we expect it to be, and here the organ part is mightily expressive. Phyllis Bryn-Julson enters with beautiful readings of the next two movements and the baritone returns for a warm, soft and inward Pie Jesu. Together they sing a deeply affecting Agnus Dei rounded off by a simple organ postlude. Bretan’s melodic gift is remarkable and I am sure this work would be a healthy alternative to Mozart, Verdi and Fauré in many churches. Since this is a live recording there is applause that, unfortunately, comes far too early. After such an engrossing experience I would have wished a long silence – preferably no applause at all – and on the disc edited out all together.

The rest of the disc is filled with other sacred songs of similar intensity and beauty. The very beautiful Ave Maria and a fine setting of The Lord’s Prayer are sung in Romanian; the rest in Hungarian. Everybody will, I am sure, find their own favourites. I was personally deeply touched by the Prayer after War (tr. 15) and also by The Garden of Csucsa (tr. 24) but every track has something valuable to offer and Ludovic Konya’s impressive baritone can express not only the dramatic and lyrical aspects of the songs with equal accomplishment but also conveys the message of the texts.

Recorded in a number of different venues the sound varies a little but the overriding impression of the disc is unity – through the inspiring music and the consistency of the singing. The accompaniments are good and the booklet gives plenty of valuable commentary on the music.

It is the end of March when I write this but Bretan’s Requiem is certainly my find of the year. The disc as a whole is a strong candidate for my list of Recordings of the Year – for the quality of the music as well as the accomplished singing.

Readers who have followed me this far and been enticed by my enthusiasm, should know that there will be another five Bretan reviews before long.

Göran Forsling

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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