Rehberg’s father, Willy Rehberg (1863–1937), studied with Robert Freund and taught piano at the conservatories of Leipzig, Geneva, Frankfurt, Mannheim and Basle. Walter was first taught by his father, and then studied in Germany with Ernst Toch, (a pupil of Willy’s in Frankfurt) and Eugen d’Albert.
Walter Rehberg had a career as a pianist and teacher.Whilst still in his twenties he was appointed professor of piano at the Hochschule für Musik in Stuttgart and conducted the Orchesterverein there, in 1932 being the soloist at the seventy-fifth jubilee concert and in 1957, the year of his death, the soloist in the hundredth year jubilee concert. In 1934 he was appointed professor at the Academy in Zürich. Rehberg published educational editions of works by Brahms for Cotta and of Schubert sonatas for Steingräber, as well as some Rameau and Handel.
Rehberg was also a composer. His works include a Sinfonia brevis for orchestra, Sinfonische Musik for wind, piano sonatas, and studies. He also composed music for the Jankó piano, a Hungarian invention with an unorthodox keyboard, and even recorded some performances on this instrument. With Paula Rehberg he co-authored biographies of composers: Schubert (1946), Brahms (1947), Chopin (1949) and an eight-hundred-page tome on Schumann (1954). In 1935 Rehberg contributed a chapter to Hoheschule der Musik entitled Der Weg zu den Tasteninstrumenten.
Because his recordings have been unavailable since their original release on 78rpm discs, Walter Rehberg is forgotten today. This is a great shame as he was a fine pianist who played in the grand manner. The recorded output is centred around Schumann, Schubert, Liszt, and Brahms. His excellent recording of Liszt’s Rhapsodie Espagnole is reminiscent of Ignaz Friedman in its sweep and breadth, perhaps a legacy from Rehberg’s studies with d’Albert. Rehberg recorded for Polydor in Germany, and many of these discs appeared in Britain on the Decca label. In the 1920s he recorded two extended works for Polydor: Schumann’s Fantasie Op. 17, which was issued in Britain on the Brunswick label, and Schubert’s ‘Wanderer’ Fantasy D. 760. The Schubert is given a grand Romantic reading with some octave doubling in the bass, and in the Schumann, Rehberg sounds most at home in the second movement: he articulates the dotted rhythms perfectly so they do not sound snapped or military, and the final page of this movement is stunning in its velocity and bravura.
In the early 1930s Rehberg recorded his own Tanzstudien in B minor and G major as well as his Fantasien über ein Thema von Verdi on the Jankó piano. Other transcriptions, on a normal piano, include some delightfully played arrangements of Johann Strauss waltzes by Grünfeld and Bass, and an exciting performance of Liszt’s arrangement of the Waltz from Gounod’s Faust. The only work of Chopin he recorded was the Polonaise-Fantaisie Op. 61, but he also recorded unusual shorter works of Liszt including Eglogue (from the Années de pèlerinage) and Ave Maria (1863).
Even if not a great pianist, Rehberg certainly deserves to be heard today as his performances provide much pleasure and enjoyment.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — Jonathan Summers (A–Z of Pianists, Naxos 8.558107–10).