Rebay: Violin & Viola sonatas - González, Álvarez, Riquelme

Rebay: Violin & Viola sonatas - González, Álvarez, Riquelme

Eudora Records  EUD-SACD-1501

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Chamber

Rebay: Sonata for violin and guitar in E minor; Sonata for violin and guitar in C minor; Sonata for viola and guitar in D minor

Pedro Mateo González (guitar)
José Manuel Álvarez (violin)
Joaquín Riquelme Garcia (viola)

This presents three first recordings, offering the opportunity to hear one of the most exciting rediscoveries in guitar music: the Austrian composer Ferdinand Rebay (1880-1953). Rebay’s style is highly sophisticated, indebted to a tradition that goes back to Schubert, Brahms and Wagner, and he stands out for having established his own unique style, melding folk music and the Austro-German compositional tradition to create works of great lyricism and organic unity, like the three sonatas included here, which establish refined dialogues in which the guitar shrugs off its usual role as mere accompanist and shares the limelight on equal terms with the other instrument.

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Recorded at Auditorio San Francisco, Ávila (Spain), July 6-8, 2014
Reviews (2)

Review by Adrian Quanjer - June 29, 2015

I believe that human beings have something like a brain-board computer, a system that guides you, without your realizing why, to take decisions or positions, to discover that, after all, the choice wasn’t that bad. What has this to do with music?

What does one do if one hears for the first time music from an unknown composer, having no reference or recordings for comparison at one’s disposal and - and I say this with some reticence, but experience learns that reviewers do look at what others are saying in order not to deviate too much from what seems to be the common appreciation - no other reviews available. In that case one relies on one’s personal computer or, as some might call it, intuition, programmed by musical knowledge and/or experience.

For me, this disk poses such a challenge. In fact, it is perhaps the most honest way to review. No preconceived ideas. First impressions can be revealing. Not another Mozart Symphony, but a totally new experience. And let me say it straight away: This disk is a wonderful one.

Of course, most of us are familiar with Paganini’s violin & guitar duets. The violin is the main object and the guitar more of a supporting ‘foundation’. Maybe as a result of not being a guitar player himself, Rebay’s duets for violon/viola and guitar are for two instruments on equal footing. And the choice of a viola in the third Sonata in D minor brings the ‘timbre’ of both instruments closer to one another, thus ensuring a kind of more amalgamated sound.

It becomes immediately apparent that Ferdinand Rebay is not an innovator like, for instance, his contemporary and compatriot, Arnold Schoenberg. While developing his own erudite style, he clearly continues to draw on traditional values. Written in 1941-42, his music is thoroughly tonal, rooted in late romantic, melodious expressions. Well structured, sophisticated and refined.

The musicians are new to me, too. And this is another surprise. I’ve said in the past and I say it again: there is so much talent around and it would be a pity if we were to stay with yesteryears heroes and heroines, re-mastered, re-issued and repackaged over and over again. In this respect we have to admire the courage of small and enterprising labels giving others a chance. And such with the best possible sound reproduction. This merits full support.

Sometimes I blame myself for being too sensitive on intonation. The slightest deviation is registered as being a ‘fausse note’. The viola player here, Joaquín Riquelme, plays with absolute ‘justesse’, which is rare for a viola player. The same applies to the violin of José Manuel Álvarez Losada. Both artists are primarily known on their home ground Spain. The guitarist, Pedro Mateo González, studied in Germany with ‘cum laude’ results and won in June 2009 the International Boston Guitar Festival.

Revisiting a thus far mostly unknown composer, these musicians have ably lifted out of oblivion three sonatas of undeniable beauty.

Unfortunately the liner notes make no mention of the players and their experience, but you can find more information on the site of Eudora Records. Suffice it to mention here that Riquelme became a full member of the Berlin Philharmonic in March 2010, that Losada is now principal violin teacher at the ‘Conservatorio Superior de Música de las Islas Baleares’ as is Pedro Mateo González for guitar.

The recording venue is the Auditorio San Francisco in Avila, Spain. DSD 5.0 recording. In stereo and Multi-Channel there is an empty hall sound, distracting from the intimacy of the three sonatas. But otherwise the recorded sound is exemplary.

Normandy, France

Copyright © 2015 Adrian Quanjer and


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Review by John Miller - July 3, 2015

Who was Ferdinand Rebay (1880–1953)? A Viennese composer who wrote over 400 pieces involving a guitar, yet whose splendid work is only just becoming known to concert makers and record companies. How did such a massive investment in time and energy - for an instrument he could not play - appear in a mid-European musical city such as Vienna, which few people nowadays would associate with the classical guitar?

To understand this, we must look at the social history of the guitar in nineteenth-century Europe. It was the development of the six course guitar in Spain during the 1750's, with double strings (same as today's 12-string guitar) that led in the 1790's to the six-stringed "modern" instrument which in the C19th became universal. In the first half of the century, a renewed enthusiasm for the guitar was centred in Vienna, a musical centre which attracted musicians from all over Europe. Important composer/player guitarists came, such as Fernando Sor, Niccolò Paganini, Mauro Giuliani and Simon Molitor (1766-1848), whose compositions included chamber music with guitar parts, including trios for violin or flute, viola and guitar. These "new" formats became integral parts of the rich Viennese musical culture, and the presence of many incoming guitarists gave impetus for the guitar becoming as finally being a serious medium for artistic expression.

In 1901, Rebay completed his time as a chorister at the Heiligenkreuz Abbey, where he was given a thorough musical education, and joined Joseph Hofmann’s piano class at the Vienna Conservatory. Already making a name for himself as a composer of Lieder and choral works, Rebay moved on to study composition at the Vienna Conservatory with Robert Fuchs (1847–1927), one of the few composers praised by Brahms and who also counted Mahler, Sibelius, Richard Strauss and Korngold among his star pupils.

During his period of study with Fuchs, Rebay was awarded a number of prizes, including the Brahms Prize and the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde’s Silver Medal. Ignoring the modernistic Second Viennese School established by Schoenberg, he pursued the Late Romantic style of Brahms, Wagner and Richard Strauss, adding to his Germanic lyricism his use of antique formal structures such as suites, serenades, minuets, rondos and, frequently, the classic sonata form (neglected by guitarist/composers and discredited as "difficult"). Rebay's additional use of a substantial measure of Austrian popular and folk music in his works completed his signature output.

No doubt Rebay was aware of Schubert's affection for the guitar, and recent research has confirmed this (see * below) and concluded that the bulk of Schubert’s exposure to the guitar was in the casual surroundings of the Biedermeier period and not as a serious instrument of virtuosic capabilities. Whether providing accompaniment for a popular vocal genre or branching off into new and innovative
instruments, Schubert’s knowledge of the guitar is verifiable and proven in his compositions for the instrument.

Rebay's personal interest in writing for the guitar was engendered by his niece, the guitarist Gerta Hammerschmid (1906-1985) and her teacher, who convinced him of the instrument's technical possibilities. Remarkably, from 1925 onwards, Rebay composed systematically for the guitar (which he did not play himself), amassing a corpus of some 400 pieces, from solos, duos, trios and quartets to an octet. Neglected by guitarists of the time and discredited as "difficult", the Sonata form used in these pieces was effectively applied by Rebay to solos and ensembles, challenging guitarists by having their parts as equal to those of other instruments, not merely strumming accompaniments.

Rebay had become chorus master of the Wiener Chorverein in 1904; in 1915, he took on the same rôle with the Wiener Schubertbund, until 1920 when he was appointed as Professor of piano at the Vienna Music Academy. The Nazi Ansluss of Austria in 1938 resulted in withdrawal of his position, the occupiers suspecting Jewish blood in his lineage. Surviving World War 1 with virtually no assets, his former University position was reinstated in 1945, but he died a pauper, forgotten, in 1953. Relatively few of his compositions had been published, so the bulk of his huge productivity survives in manuscript versions held by the Austrian National Library and the library of Heiligenkreuz Abbey. From the1990s, Philomele Editions began to publish the hitherto undiscovered manuscripts, and a few discs of his guitar sonatas and duos with guitar wind instruments are available. Eudora's contribution to the ongoing artistic resuscitation of Rebay's life's work is the present disc's three duos, two for guitar with violin, and one with guitar and viola.

Rebay's duos with strings are imaginative, succinct, tune-full, and in four movements just as classical form demands, with a sonata form first movement, a lyrical slow movement in three sections with a contrasting middle or a set of variations, often of a folk tune, and a Scherzo, also in 3 sections, (often closer to a minuet). Finales may be rondos, rondo-sonatas or moto perpetuo. The violin/guitar duos are in minor keys, which are treated in a Schubertian way, moving frequently between minor and major, so despite the overall minor key, the sonatas have a radiance and friendliness which is most inviting.

Rebay shows his deep understanding of the technical capabilities of the violin in his scoring, but never uses pure virtuosity, just as he invented new textures for the guitar, such as blocks of fast tremolo which emulate a mandolin. Some of these textures for both instruments are delightfully witty. Supplied by ingeniously constructed dialogs between the instruments, the guitar's input is truly equal to its partner's lines, at times virtually sounding like a piano. The dark, rich Viola Duo is a beautiful and deeply involving piece; an exceptionally rich and sonorous exploration of the lower regions of each instrument, organically planned.

Rebay's music on this disc is of the highest quality, and it receives playing of the finest, from Pedro Mateo González (guitar), Joaquín Riquelme (viola) and José Manuel Álvarez (violin) in dedicated and affectionate performances. Their biographies are not in the disc booklet, but on the Eudora website (

Packaging is an SACD jewel-box, bearing as front page an intriguing name of the composer using an artistic, ornate and transparent 3-D fount. The booklet material comprises an essay "Three Gems of the Guitar Repertoire" by Gonzalo Noqué, a world renowned guitar player and a passionate advocate for the resurrection and dispersal of Ferdinand Rebay's massive list of works. He describes each duo in detail, with an informative commentary, movement by movement. One small missing piece of information - I would like to have some details of the instruments used, particularly for the guitar.

Recorded in DSD256 with top of the range equipment and recoded to DSD for SA-CD, there is no doubt about the detailed, natural sound in both stereo and 5.0 multi. Somewhat controversially, the recording took place in Auditorio San Francisco, Ávila, Spain. This is a church that was in very poor condition, before renovation which enabled to be both an auditorium and exhibit space. Photographs of the recording sessions in the booklet show the pairs of players set up on the front of the auditorium's stage, playing out into its body. In multichannel mode, hearing the ample reverberation, I had a fleeting query that this could reduce the intimacy of a small ensemble of a chamber concert. This was dismissed in a few minutes when it became clear that all players were using the acoustic in shaping their tonal output, much like the practise of opera singers interacting with their auditoria. Very good chamber music players do the same when the acoustics allow it. The natural instrumental overtones and resonances of violin/viola and guitar were subtly amplified without loosing detail, but providing a wonderful sense of warmth and spaciousness, which in multichannel surrounded me most pleasingly. The stereo recording is immaculate, of less resonance than multi but still reflecting the player's use of acoustics.

I hope that this remarkable issue will urge further recordings of Fernand Rebay's guitar works, so I commend it to classical guitar fans and chamber music devotees alike, while looking forward myself to getting to know more of these friendly works of distinguished entertainment art.

(*) Franz Schubert's Chamber Music with Guitar: A Study of the Guitar's Role in Biedermeier Vienna. Stephen Patrick Mattingly, Florida State University, 3-26-2007.

Copyright © 2015 John Miller and


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