Nikolaj Timofeevich Gres

28 December 1920 Kobeljaky – 25 March 2003 Simferopol
Picture of Nikolai Timofeyevich Gres Picture of Nikolai Timofeyevich Gres
During World War II, Gres sustained an injury resulting in a brain contusion. From 1946, Gres was a soloist of the Black Sea Fleet Ensemble. From 1955 to 1963 (1950–1960 according to basso Leonid Kharitonov), he was a soloist of the Bolshoj Theatre, and his debut with the Bolshoj was on 11 February 1956 in Moscow.

He then joined the Aleksandrov Ensemble until 1973 (just 1964–1965 according to Kharitonov). After leaving the ensemble, he worked briefly in Moscow teaching automobile engineering, then moved to Simferopol in the Ukraine, where he became an administrator in the Simferopol Philharmonic Society.

In his last years, Gres suffered poor health and died suddenly in hospital at Simferopol. In 2001, a biography of Gres was published in the Crimea under the title My whole life with a song (Vsju zhizn-s pesnej), by I. Turchin.

With the Aleksandrov Ensemble he recorded I was going back from Berlin (1966), The birch tree (1965), Truth of the century (1970), The river flows (1963), Pokhodnaja/French marching song (1963), My Friends, The grey cuckoo (1965), ObelisksObeliski/Obelisks (1966), Pesnja pro golovu (1967), I have travelled the whole universe (1969); as far as opera, he recorded the complete role of Sobinin in Ivan Susanin (Zhizn za tsarja).

Nikolaj Gres sings Berjozka
In RA format

Comments on Gres singing Berjozka (The birch tree)
This is a late medieval composition about a man sitting under a birch tree, whittling and thinking of women. It is usually categorised as a folk song as the name of the composer has been lost. However it is clearly a professional composition of a quality comparable to those of medieval Northern European composers of troubadour songs, such as Dufay and Binchois. This performance is part of the history of the early music revival movement. In the 19th century, rediscovered early music, along with folk music, was usually arranged to be performed in the grand orchestral or Italian operatic style. However, such music had always survived in church music, in one form or another, and people were used to hearing it performed in the style of traditional European church choirs: no vibrato; pure and clear tone; adjusting the voice production to the acoustics of the building. In church music, the building was always the secondary soundbox for the vocal instrument (the nasal cavity being the first). From the 1950s, early music performance reverted to this ecclesiastical style of singing. So the Aleksandrov Ensemble performance of ca. 1963 was very modern for its time. Gres sings like a church choir baritone, with the same appearance of spiritual joy as any oratorio soloist. His voice is responding to a building-soundbox, too; in this case a recording studio. The Russian practice of the time was to film outdoors and then dub the sound later. Studio dubbing tends to appear artificial today, but on this occasion (a video of the performance exists, editor's note) it is advantageous, as the church choral style does need a building-soundbox. From the 1970s, some early music singers, such as the Martin Best Ensemble, started to reflect what may have been the contemporary late medieval performance-style of troubadour songs: that is, the Arab singing style which can still be heard in Islamic sung prayer. Hence Gres' performance now sounds a little dated, but remains nonetheless one of the finest recorded performances of this song.

Nikolaj Gres sings Ekhal ja iz Berlina (I rode back from Berlin) (Dunajevskyj)
In RA format

Nikolaj Gres sings Zhizn za tsarja: Milyja deti, with Ivan Petrov, Vera Firsova and Valentina Klepatskaja
In RA format

Go Home