Ferdinand REBAY (1880-1953)
Sonata in E minor for violin and guitar (1942) [23:03]
Sonata in C minor for violin and guitar (1942) [20:25]
Sonata in D minor for viola and guitar (?1941/42) [22:52]
José M. Álvarez Losada (violin)
Joaquín Riguelme (viola)
Pedro mateo González (guitar)
rec. 6-8 July 2014, Auditorio San Francisco, Ávila, Spain.
EUDORA EU-SACD-1501 [66:22]

Ferdinand Rebay is one of those more or less forgotten names in music whose only mistake was to remain composing in traditional classical/romantic idioms while the jet-stream of Western music was being carried along at high speed by the 12-tone techniques of Schoenberg, the racy adventurousness of Stravinsky and a spiky dodecaphonic drive from Darmstadt. These days we’ve forgotten the way music such as Rebay’s was seen as a crime against progress in many quarters in the mid-twentieth century, and about as far away from the ‘mainstream’ of contemporary music as it would be possible to go.

Gonzalo Noqué’s booklet notes sum this up in a sentence: “Rebay’s style is highly sophisticated, indebted to a tradition that goes back to Schubert, Brahms and Wagner, and the polar opposite to that of his contemporaries of the Second Viennese School …” I would have put Weber rather than Wagner in the list but the point is well made. These sonatas have a gentle tonal grace and melodic charm that would have been welcome in Viennese palm-court salons of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and if you were to hear the Sonata in E minor blind there is no way you would give it a date of 1942, the same year Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony was played by starving musicians in war-torn Leningrad.

Rebay’s background was as the child of a middle-class family in Vienna whose musical training included instruction from Robert Fuchs, teacher of the likes of Mahler, Korngold and Zemlinsky. The guitar has long been part of Viennese musical life, though at the time Rebay was flourishing it was no longer a key instrument. After being introduced to the instrument by guitar master Jacobus Ortner, he wrote that he “was to discover … that the guitar literature had virtually come to a standstill for more than half a century.” While these sonatas and the prolific Rebay’s four hundred or so works featuring the guitar can hardly be said to have kick-started the instrument back into popular appreciation above, say, the piano, they do at the very least throw up some real ‘gems’.

The guitar as an accompanying instrument has the advantage of gentle timbre over the piano, and the violin can operate in a soft dynamic over its entire range without fear of being drowned out by the clattering percussive qualities of a mass of hammers. The performers here are sublimely sensitive to Rebay’s musical subtleties, from contrasts of dynamic and the weighing of chords against melodic lines, as well as in the democratic interaction between the instruments, elegantly demonstrated in the guitar’s melodic function in the second Variations movement of the Sonata in C minor. The added ambience of 5.0 SACD surround sound is an attraction that enhances the cleanly transparent nature of both music and performance. The extra richness of sonority and darkness of timbre introduced by the viola in the Sonata in D minor is another delight.

You won’t find emotional profundity in these pieces, and you have to admit that they are works far out of their time. Ignoring the dates of composition and relaxing into Rebay’s superbly crafted and comforting conservatism is however a joy from beginning to end, and what more could you want late at night, just before retiring with candle and nightcap.

Dominy Clements


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