Ferdinand REBAY (1880-1953)
16 songs from '34 Gedichte aus Hermann Löns' 'Der Kleine Rosengarten'' (1937) [41:00]
6 Russische Volkslieder [14:36]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897) arr. Ferdinand REBAY
Die Sonne Scheint Nicht Mehr (WoO 33/5) (1894/1938) [1:24]
Da Unten im Tale (WoO 33/6) (1894/1938) [2:53]
Maximilian Kiener (tenor)
Gonzalo Noqué (guitar)
rec. Chimillas Church, Huesca, Spain, August 2010. DDD
ARSIS 4240 [60:39]
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 works.
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.
Rebay makes his understated, mellifluous yet persuasive way.