Gres sings “The Birch Tree”

Nikolai Timofeyevich Gres sings “The Birch Tree” (Во поле березка стояла).

Gres sings The Birch Tree on the music video Soviet Army Chorus and Dance Ensemble 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 comparative 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 Alexandrov 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 it is advantageous, as the church choral style does need a building-soundbox. Hence Gres’ performance now sounds a little dated, but remains nonetheless one of the finest recorded performances of this song.

About the film:

This rare and historic program was filmed on location in the former Soviet Union The brilliant ensemble consisted of about 200 entertainers including a choir and choreographic troupe, who traveled the front lines, entertaining Soviet troops by performing more than 1500 concerts during World War II. This entertaining DVD brings to life the essence of Russian music and performance with spectacular singing, dancing and acrobatics.

Folk Music of the Soviet Union the Soviet Army, Chorus, Band and Dance Ensemble performs a wide variety of Russian dances and songs.

This documentary captures a performance featuring over one-hundred singers and dancers showcasing various traditional Russian music and dances.
~ Perry Seibert, All Movie Guide

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