Michael Rabin Collection, Vol. 2 = Violin Works of BRAHMS, WIENIAWSKI, BRUCH, MENDELSSOHN, KREISLER, SAINT-SAENS, CRESTON, MASSENET, YSAYE, MILHAUD, others – Doremi (3 discs)

by | Jun 30, 2009 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Michael Rabin Collection, Vol. 2 = BRAHMS: Violin Concerto in D, Op. 77; PROKOFIEV: Violin Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 63; WIENIAWSKI: Violin Concerto No. 1 in F-sharp Major, Op. 14; First Movement (second performance)/BRUCH: Violin Concert in G Minor, Op. 26; MOHAUPT: Violin Concerto; CRESTON: Violin Concerto No. 2, Op. 78; BACH: Double Concerto in D Minor: first movement; MENDELSSOHN: Violin Concerto in E Minor: third movement; MASSENET: Elegie; BRAHMS: Contemplation; KREISLER: Caprice Viennois, Op. 2; SAINT-SAENS: Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, Op. 28; PAGANINI: 6 Caprices, Op. 1; YSAYE: Sonata No. 3 for Solo Violin: Ballade, Op. 27; SPALDING: Dragonfly; MILHAUD: Tijuca; SZYMANOWSKY: La fontane d’Arthuse, Op. 30 – Michael Rabin, violin/ Brian Sullivan, tenor (Massenet)/Zino Francescatti, violin (Bach)/Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Rafael Kubelik )Brahms)/Andre Vandernoot (Prokofiev)/National Orchestra Association/Charles Blackman (Wieniawski)/Los Angeles Philharmonic/Alfred Wallenstein (Wieniawski first movement)/Berlin Radio Symphony/Thomas Schippers (Bruch)/New York Philharmonic/Dimitri Mitropoulos (Mohaupt)/Little Orchestra Society/Thomas Scherman (Creston)/Bell Telephone Hour Orchestra/Donald Voorhees/Lothar Broddack, piano )Milhaud, Szymanowski)   

Doremi DHR-7951-3, (3 CDs) TT: 240:53  [Distr. by Allegro] ****:

A second volume of rare and historic collaborations and solo work from Michael Rabin (1936-1972), the tragic American talent whom we lost much too early in a meteoric career, warrants our attention. Never having committed the large-scale concertos by Beethoven, Brahms, and Prokofiev to commercial discs, we can revel in these issues via Jacob Harnoy’s Doremi label, dedicated as it is to great instrumentalists.

For the 3 August 1967 performance of the Brahms Concerto at the Ravinia Festival, Rabin played a 1735 Guarnerius del Gesu lent him by conductor Kubelik, the wonderful instrument having belonged to Jan Kubelik, Rafael’s father. The scale of the Brahms first movement proves quite streamlined, the tempos brisk, but at no cost to the wonderfully arched cantabile Rabin brings the lyrical sections. The collaboration, moreover, has the authority of Rabin’s “comeback years,” that period post-1964 after drug addiction and nervous tension had forced Rabin to take a needed hiatus from the concert world. Here, with the Chicago Symphony, Rabin seems secure as ever technically, and his playing enjoys the molded plasticity of experience and emotional depth. Kubelik, likewise, urges ardent, rounded phrases from his orchestra, particularly when the development section throws sequences and leaping motifs around with something like gypsy abandon. The drive to the Joachim cadenza resonates with particular authority. The sweetness of Rabin’s tone finds a perfect, soaring vehicle in the Brahms Adagio, where the oboe (Ray Still?) and French horn complement his plaints. You would be hard pressed to find a more compelling realization of this movement, anywhere. The visceral aggression of the last movement quite startles us, the tympani and the Chicago brass explosive. Even Rabin’s brief cadenza has his digging into the strings with more electrical zeal than was his wont as a youth, the four-note motif assuming the fateful character of Beethoven’s Fifth.

Rabin championed the second of the Prokofiev concertos, eschewing the D Major. His attack (11 July 1968) and phraseology remind me much of that of Zino Franceascatti and Dimitri Mitropoulos made for Columbia records some 12 years prior. Immediately, after a razor-sharp opening, Rabin launches into the lyrical sequence, its sympathy with Romeo and Juliet’s love-theme, with especial empathy and ardor. Vandernoot keeps our focus on the woodwind interplay and the series of syncopated cross rhythms that compete for attention. Despite some crackle in the original tape, the slashing, vivid tones compel us with blistering authority. The world has been held in thrall by the Adagio assai ever since Heifetz and Koussevitzky inscribed it for posterity. Rabin and Vandernoot do it no less heart-wrenching justice, Rabin’s silken tone rising over punctuated string pizzicati, mystically amoroso. Violin and flutter-tongue flute engage in a delightful colloquy, where Romeo’s face might be set amongst the night stars.  A bit of the savage still insinuates itself into the lyrical canvas, just enough to remind us how elemental these passions are. So, too, the quasi-Spanish dance that ends the concerto, its mad, coloristic fandango in 5/4 and 7/4 and permutations thereof.  The whirling momentum takes us forward with nary a hesitation, only the elastic onrush of two musicians possessed by a divine love of music.

The last of the mature Rabin collaborations, post-1964, is the Bruch Concerto in G Minor from the Berlin Radio Symphony (15 October 1969) with Thomas Schippers. The granite force of the realization becomes evident at the outset, Rabin’s tone and digging attack uncompromising. The transition to the second subject, tympani raging, comes like a sweet revelation of divine mercy. Even in less than perfect sonics, the performance has guided, sincere direction and astonishing nobility of phrase. The fast passages daunt Rabin not at all; he seems to relish the speeded accents and articulation as part of his renewed frenzy to make music.  Schippers himself is caught up in the emotional sweep–as he proves to be in his commercial inscription with Francescatti of this piece–and the second movement Adagio hews out a burnished valedictory elegy. If this and the incendiary Finale, these assertions of the life force, provide Rabin’s funeral oration, we owe ourselves the agonized pleasures of his ecstasy, which sings in its chains like the sea.

From Carnegie Hall, 17 December 1951, the fifteen-year-old Michael Rabin appears on the Bell Telephone Hour, smoothly playing the Heifetz arrangement of the Brahms “Contemplation,” then the familiar Caprice Viennois of Kreisler, with a thoroughly idiomatic lilt in the rhythm and sugar bouquet in the heart.  The sizzling pyrotechnics and flying spiccati, however, testify to a temperament well beyond schmaltz. Vorhees supplies a transparent aura for the Saint-Saens, which Rabin begins marcato et lento, but we can already sense the explosiveness beneath the sleek veneer. The huge trill, and the race in dotted rhythms opens with a swagger and bravura thoroughly seasoned. The middle section enjoys the Moroccan-oasis sensibility of incense and erotic caravans. The Mendelssohn third movement (16 May 1955) from the E Minor Concerto proves dashing and deftly articulate, as per expectation, gay spirits all around. Tenor Brian Sullivan joins Rabin’s obbligato for Massenet’s poignant Elegie, shades of a world that passed with Mischa Elman and Efrem Zimbalist. The “culmination” of Rabin’s appearances at the Bell Telephone Hour concerts must be the first movement of the Bach Double Concerto with friend and confidant Zino Francescatti (28 April 1952). As gorgeous and rife with natural brio as the Vivace is, we long to have heard their second movement. How ironic, that Francescatti’s last recording was of this same work (for DGG) with Regis Pasquier.

To supplement the Bell Telephone broadcasts, we have an appearance from Santa Barbara’s 1953 The Standard Hour, where Rabin and Alfred Wallenstein collaborate on Rabin’s signature Wieniawski F-sharp Major Concerto. Quick, lean lines display Rabin’s total security in the convulsive, over-wrought pathos of the piece–especially in the high registers–its haunting melos welded to a Polish national style that nods constantly to Paganini.

For a complete performance of the Wieniawski as played so inimitably by Rabin (7 April 1950) we sojourn to Carnegie Hall for a collaboration with Charles Blackman and the National Orchestra Association. Only a mite broader than the Standard Hour interpretation, the first movement certifies to what degree the rhythms and velocities of this sensational piece had ingrained themselves into Rabin’s 14-year-old musical persona. The perfect segue from raspy cadenza to the elegant last pages remains a thing of beauty. The second movement Wieniawski marks “Preghiera” (Prayer), Larghetto. The purity of Rabin’s line strikes us at once: Elman heard Rabin and exclaimed, “That’s the only way to play it!” The last movement allows us Rabin’s take on a krakowiak, a spirited rondo in strident, whiplash Polish style. Even as a youth, Rabin commanded the Paganini unaccompanied Caprices, recording them as a boy for CBS. In Berlin (17 October 1961), Rabin at 35 takes the chromatic Etude No. 5 in one gulp; the glissandi of No. 13 acquire a steamy luster than breaks into a series of staccato figures and double notes in raspy, quickly shifting accents. No. 14 “La Chasse” takes us in double notes to a hunting party, the violin becoming a clarion chest of trumpets. No. 17 works on broken figures and wrist articulation, the scales and slides all over the fingerboard. Heroic No. 24 in A Minor, the penultimate offering, we know as the pregnant source for the whole Romantic (and beyond) taste for variations. How can No. 9 avoid becoming an anticlimax? By Rabin’s playing this etude–which sounds like a battle between honey bees and wasps–so stunningly that we see why Liszt wanted it for piano transcription. The Ysaye’s D Minor “Ballade” Sonata only lasts seven minutes, but Rabin takes us into a world splicing Bach to pre-Bartok, Enesco, and Ravel, and whose modal flames burn with Rabin’s particular phosphorus.

A year later, Rabin’s colossal energies are back in Berlin (30 October 1962) with pianist Lothar Broddack, the lion’s share of the recital on Doremi DHR-7715. Albert Spalding’s Dragonfly for violin solo sounds like a cross between Sarasate and Locatelli’s Harmonic Labyrinth. Stokowski played the piece as “The Zephyr” in an orchestral transcription. Milhaud’s swoozy portrait from Brazil is a tango in unabashed erotic colors. Szymanowski’s Myth “The Fountain of Arethusa” shimmers in post-Debussy pool of tinted light-infused waters, an invitation to dangerous thoughts and “cures for the soul through the senses,” if I remember my Oscar Wilde.

The first of the two premiers by Rabin, the Richard Mohaupt (1904-1957) Violin Concerto with Dimitri Mitropoulos (29 April 1954) has Rabin taking a stance similar to Louis Kaufman, another pioneer in violin repertory. The Mohaupt Concerto, in three movements, projects in its opening Capriccio a kind of neo-classic militancy, all battery and percussion in strident, dotted rhythms and snaky outbursts. Its spiritual guide might be Hindemith. The Notturno has a plastic, arioso violin line over woodwind ostinati and bass grumblings. The concluding Rondo Rustico sounds like a modernist attempt to re-write the Sibelius’ finale, only too academically predictable. If anyone can make this music tragically lyrical, Mitropoulos can. Still, critic Olin Downes found the work “dry” and of little significance to its acolytes. From New York’s Town Hall, the under-rated Thomas Scherman (1917-1979) leads the Paul Creston Concerto No. 2 (19 March 1962), a work that combines lyrical folk and bluesy elements with a debonair aerial virtuosity, often in moto perpetuo. The sound quality of the first movement is severely compromised and distant. The Andante nods to Gershwin–maybe Louis Moreau Gottschalk–in its intimately transparent colors, flute and horn floating over low strings–but the writing is anything but derivative. Violin and tympani dialogue against dance rhythms in African or Creole guises. A long, plaintive, moody, high-strung cadenza follows that takes us almost to the end of this introspective music. The concluding Presto strikes us with its light, impish textures, busy, hinting of tropical breezes. The intensity breaks out in the last three minutes with that fervent pulsation that Creston’s best music–like his Dance Overture--contains. Rabin’s violin soars like Yma Sumac or some rare bird of southern climes, impressive, unforced virtuosity at its best.

–Gary Lemco

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