To date only a handful of discs of Austrian composer Ferdinand
Rebay's music have been released, and they have concentrated
on his guitar music. But Rebay was prolific in virtually all
genres, and the picture emerging, primarily thanks to the efforts
of publishers Philomele Editions, is of a composer with an immense
talent for uncomplicated, beautiful melody. This disc, from
the Spanish label Arsis, appears to be the first to showcase
his vocal music.
It would be a considerable understatement to say that Rebay
was a conservative composer. In many ways this is not even 19th
century music, let alone 20th century! In fact, it is best characterised
as timeless folk music sculpted into little works of art by
an expert hand with an immaculate ear for memorable tunes.
The main song-cycle on this disc was originally called 34
Poems from Hermann Löns' 'Der Kleine Rosengarten', but only
18 songs have survived; two of these are for female voice, so
this is the full extant complement for male voice. The manuscript
gives no indication as to order, so recitalists Maximilian Kiener
and Gonzalo Noqué have made their own choice. The poems are
actually quite similar in subject matter - generally about love,
especially love lost or unrequited, in pastoral settings (Löns
(1866-1914) was a conservationist and natural historian, as
well as a writer).
How much this CD appeals will depend largely on what one thinks
of Kiener's voice. Though Rebay wrote a large quantity of guitar
music of considerable quality, by all accounts (see the Naxos
disc currently available only online, also featuring Noqué),
his accompaniments throughout these works are deliberately unostentatious,
allowing every word to be heard. Nevertheless, the guitar music
is unfailingly attractive.
Kiener's voice, on the other hand, though pleasant enough, is
far from outstanding. On the evidence of this disc, it is more
suited to folk-style singing rather than art music. Which means,
ironically, that it is actually works well enough in Rebay's
songs. In most of Der Kleine Rosengarten for example,
he seems very much at home - the sunshine radiating from songs
like 'Das Irrlicht' ('Will o' the Wisp') or 'Der Sonderbare
Vogel' ('The Strange Bird') is audible in his voice.
But he sounds less than comfortable in the lower registers,
as in 'Der Rosengarten' ('The Rose Garden') or 'Abschiedsstrauss'
('Farewell Bouquet'), for example. The fact that Kiener's technique
and range are not perfect is more evident in the Six Russian
Folksongs - in 'Wiegenlied' ('Lullaby'), for example, his
voice is far from soothing, and he is equally grating in 'Von
der Insel Dort' ('From the Island There'), where the lower notes
seem to take him out of his comfort zone. He is better in the
next three songs, beginning with 'Die Glocken von Nowgorod'
('The Bells of Novgorod'), borrowed from Mussorgsky, and which,
incidentally, must be one of the shortest songs ever, lasting
only 18 seconds! 'He Uch-La' will be instantly recognisable
to anyone familiar with Russian folk music as the 'Song of the
Volga Boatmen' (as collected by Balakirev), and 'An der Mutter
Wolga' ('By Mother Volga') is the last of the six, and one of
the best - though Kiener occasionally reaffirms his ability
to set the listener's teeth on edge, when he nearly confuses
shouting with singing loudly.
The two Brahms songs are obviously fillers, but Rebay did in
fact 'recompose' a lot of music by others musicians, so it seems
reasonable to include a sampler here. Once again they have a
folksy feel to them - no great surprise, given that they come
from Brahms's German Folksongs WoO33 - and Kiener handles
them well enough.
Technically, the recording is pretty good, though the church
venue is rather resonant; at the same time, Kiener sounds a
little closely miked. The CD comes not in the usual jewel case,
but in a foldout cardboard wallet with flaps covering booklet
on one side and disc in a plastic slip on the other - different,
but not to everyone's taste. But the booklet itself is printed
on high quality paper - vellum, almost - and is generally informative
with regard to biographies and lyrics (though there is no mention
of Hermann Löns). The only minor quibble is that there is no
English translation of the poems for non-German speakers, and
that the English-language notes were written by a Spaniard -
guitarist Noqué - and Spaniards insist on using the false-friend
adjective 'compositive' (˜ compositional) when discussing musical
Overall though, despite a few reservations, this is a commendable
disc. There are far too few lieder cycles for guitar and voice,
and Rebay, in his own understated, mellifluous way, makes a
persuasive case for more - more cycles and more Rebay.