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Heinz Rehfuss (baritone) - The Decca Recitals
Hans Willi Häusslein (piano: Mussorgsky, Wolf)
Frank Martin (piano: Schubert, Martin)
rec. Victoria Hall, Geneva, Switzerland, June 1953 (Mussorgsky), 14 October-11 November 1954 (Wolf), 27 October-9 November 1955 (Schubert, Martin)
No texts enclosed
ELOQUENCE 482 4607 [81:39]

When I, more than fifty-five years ago, bought my first record player – a Philips machine with a 10-inch turntable which I connected to a small radio receiver in our admittedly spacious kitchen – I soon became a member of the Concert Hall Record Club, and through them I built up a rather comprehensive LP-collection. Vocal music was early one of my deepest interests and among the roster of singers Concert Hall could muster, bass-baritone Heinz Rehfuss was one of the most prominent. He was born in Hamburg in 1917 but moved with his parents to Switzerland and soon became a Swiss citizen. He had an important international career as opera singer as well as concert singer and recitalist. I soon acquired a quite substantial collection of his recordings: cantatas of Bach, excerpts from St John Passion and the B minor Mass, Haydn’s Die Schöpfung – nobody has ever sung the phrase Im Anfange schuf Gott Himmel und Erde with greater warmth and authority – Mozart’s Coronation Mass. But also opera: He was a noble Escamillo in Carmen and the short meeting with Carmen on his way to the bullfight arena in the last act has for ever been etched into my memory – Si tu m’aime Carmen … again with such warmth and beauty of tone. He was also a splendid Kezal in Smetana’s The Bartered Bride and somewhat later I also got a record with German Lieder, where he was accompanied – as partly on the disc under review – by Frank Martin, who besides being one of the foremost composers of the mid-20th century also was an excellent pianist. Being at that time deeply influenced by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s expressive and detailed interpretations, I at first thought Rehfuss was penny-plain, but I soon found that there could be gains also with a more straight-forward approach. The nobility of tone, the beauty of the voice and the superb enunciation were all the time in evidence, and his readings were never dull, just less interventionist – which worked just as well. Schumann’s Die beiden Grenadiere was just as telling in his version as in Souzay’s and Fischer-Dieskau’s.

This is still the impression when I listen to these Decca recordings from the mid-1950s. That Rehfuss should be a fine interpreter of Mussorgsky came as no surprise, knowing that Boris Godunov was one of his signature roles in the opera houses. The surprise is rather that he sings Songs and Dances of Death in French. They are so intimately connected with the sounds of the Russian vowels – even though Kim Borg sang them in German to good effect. But Rehfuss’s idiomatic French – being Swiss he was fluent in French and Italian besides his mother-tongue German – in harness with his usual characteristics: beauty of tone, intense drama, nuances and excellent diction, make this version fully valid and worthy a place by the side of say Boris Christoff, who was roughly contemporaneous with Rehfuss.

Anyone who has ever heard him singing Wolf and Schubert on the afore-mentioned LP with Martin, will know what to expect: unfussy but deeply felt readings, singing off the words – and again that unmistakable warmth that always was his distinguishing mark. Wolf’s Michelangelo-Lieder may well be the apex of his production, even though it is difficult to find any weak songs at all in his production. And the Schubert songs – even though Der zürnende Bard hardly belongs to his best-known – are from his top-drawer.

It should be said that Frank Martin’s Sechs Monologe aus “Jedermann”, composed in 1943, are not the easiest to come to terms with, neither textually nor musically, and perhaps are Martin’s later orchestrations even stronger and, in a way, more helpful for the listener. But what we hear here is the original, and with the composer at the piano this must be regarded as the most authoritative recording. At the time of recording only one dozen years had passed since Max Christmann premiered them – presumably with the composer at the piano. Anyway, once you come to terms with them you will be generously rewarded.

Generous is also the playing time of this disc: 81:39! The sound quality of the 60+ years’ recordings is also fully up to expectations and makes this a product that should be snapped up by all admirers of good singing.

Göran Forsling

Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839 – 1881)
Songs and Dances of Death:
1. No. 1 Trepak [4:50]
2. No. 2 Lullaby [4:35]
3. No. 3 Serenade [3:41]
4. No. 4 The Field Marshal [5:03]
Hugo WOLF (1860 – 1903)
5. No. 1 Wohl denk’ ich oft [1:50]
6. No. 2 Alles endet, was entsteht [3:57]
7. No. 3 Fühlt meine Seele [4:27]
3 Eichendorff-Lieder:
8. No. 1 Der Freund [1:51]
9. No. 2 Der Musikant [1:39]
10. No. 3 Verschwiegene Liede [2:08]
2 Mörike-Lieder:
11. No. 46 Gesang Weylas [1:39]
12. No. 48 Storchenbotschaft [3:36]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797 – 1828)
13. Der Strom, D.565 [1:39]
14. Der Wanderer, D.649 [3:18]
15. Totengräbers Heimweh, D.842 [7:29]
16. Auf der Donau, D.553 [2:34]
17. Fischerweise, D.881 [3:29]
18. Der Zürnende Barde, D.785 [1:51]
19. Gruppe aus dem Tartarus, D.583 [3:11]
Frank MARTIN (1890 – 1974)
Sechs Monologe aus „Jedermann“:
20. No. 1 Ist alls zu Ende das Freudenmahl [3:40]
21. No. 2 Ach, Gott, wie graust mir vor dem Tod [3:39]
22. No. 3 Ist alls wenn ein gerufen hätt [2:23]
23. No. 4 So wollt ich ganz zernichet sein [2:13]
24. No. 5 Ja, Ich glaub: solches hat er vollbracht [2:25]
25. No. 6 O ewiger Gott! O göttliches Gesicht! [3:46]



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