Michael Rabin: The Unpublished Recordings, 1947-1971 = Works of LALO, PAGANINI, KREISLER, BACH, DVORAK, DEBUSSY, SARASATE, CHOPIN, FALLA, SCHUMANN, BRAHMS, CARPENTER & others – Testament (3 CDs)

by | Feb 22, 2012 | Classical Reissue Reviews

Michael Rabin: The Unpublished Recordings, 1947-1971 = LALO: Symphonie Espagnole; PAGANINI: Caprices, Op. 1 excerpts; SAINT-SAENS: Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso; KROLL: Banjo and Fiddle; KREISLER: Schoen Rosmarin; Tambourin Chinois; La Chasse; BACH: Partita No. 2 in D Minor excerpts; DVORAK: Slavonic Dance No. 2 in E Minor; DEBUSSY: Preludes: No. 8 “Girl with the Flaxen Hair”; SARASATE: Introduction and Tarantelle; SCHALIT: Serenade after a Jewish Folk Song; FALLA: La vida breve, Spanish Dance No. 1; SCHUMANN: Waldszenen, OP. 82: Vogels als Prophet; CHOPIN (arr. Sarasate): Nocturne in E-flat, Op. 9, No. 2; WIENIAWSKI: Polonaise in D, Op. 4; CARPENTER: Violin Sonata; BRAHMS: Violin Concerto in D, Op. 77; BRUCH: Scottish Fantasy, Op. 46 – Michael Rabin, violin/ Grant Johannesen & Jeanne Rabin, piano/San Diego Sym. /Zoltan Rozsnyai – Testament SBT3 1470, (3 CDs) 76:06; 63:57; 69:46 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
The name of violin virtuoso Michael Rabin (1936-1972) still shines, even forty years after his death. While a solid, if limited, body of his work survives on records, any testimony to his colossal talent that emerges brings immediate interest and musical rewards. Appropriately enough, the Testament label proffers a three-CD set in fine and excellent sound that captures Rabin from his extraordinary days, 1947-1949 through his relatively mature style, 1970-1971. We hear Rabin work with his gifted mother, pianist Jeanne Rabin, who had married George Rabin, a violinist for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Ivan Galamian, Michael Rabin’s main teacher, claimed, “The boy has absolutely no weakness, never.” That assertion more than justifies itself early on, as we listen to literally blazing renditions made on tape 14 December 1947 of a barely eleven-year-old prodigy in music of daunting challenges: Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole (in the four movement edition); four Paganini Caprices: 11 in C; 17 in E-flat Major; 24 in A Minor; and  No. 5 in A Minor; Saint-Saens; Kreisler; Shalit; and then Brahms and Bach, played with feverish intensity and seamless polish. While the Bach Partita lacks the Chaconne, the Allemanda, Corrente, and Giga convey a through grounding in Baroque style and piercing projection without sag.
I find the series 1961-1964 already demonstrating a startling degree of maturity in Rabin’s musical evolution: the pulse is steadier, the plastic transitions in register and dynamic shifts even smoother and more “lofty.” For most of the disc, Rabin has the amazing Brooks Smith (from EMI archives) as his accompanist, and their versions of Dvorak’s E Minor Slavonic Dance and Falla’s (arr. Kreisler) Spanish Dance sizzle with excitement. Kroll’s Banjo and Fiddle receives several readings, and each dances with the flashy exuberance and easy facility that we already know from Jascha Heifetz. The Sarasate arrangement of the Chopin Nocturne had my own daughter remarking that she preferred Rabin’s version to the piano original! The unusual moment of repertory occurs with the transfer on a 1964 Gold Crest LP of the Violin Sonata by John Alden Carpenter, Grant Johannesen, piano. A substantial piece, it boasts a healthy lyricism, albeit in a modal style possibly indebted to Faure and Franck. The Largo mistico third movement indeed possesses a sincere character, nobly realized by Rabin and Johannesen. The generally breezy Presto giocoso permits Rabin to romp in folksy riffs, although the feeling remains “academic.” The music drifts into a meditative section that once more sounds like a variant from the Franck Sonata. I find the Gold Crest mono lacquer acoustic harsh, but the document is too valuable to dismiss, and the sense of collaboration proves seamless.
The young Michael Rabin already had the Brahms Violin Concerto under his fingers, and we can hear him in a keyboard arrangement of the orchestral part with his mother (20 May 1949, from 78 rpm discs) on Disc One, in which they perform selected passages from the Allegro on troppo first movement. In the late 1960s and early in 1970, rebuilding his career after phobias and drugs had severely damaged his persona and his musical acuity, Michael Rabin had hoped EMI would re-invite him to their studios to record the major concertos of Beethoven and Brahms. It did not happen, but the San Diego Symphony archives yield the Brahms (26 February 1970) in a stereo broadcast from the Civic Theater that attests to a virile, firm line and flexible response from Rabin, aided by a gorgeous violin tone from his Guarnerius del Gesu, 1775. While the San Diego Symphony cannot equal the luster of the more prominent recording orchestras, conductor Rozsnyai certainly provides more than adequate fiber, and the individual instruments, the oboe, flute and tympani, particularly, rise to the occasion.
Virtually a year later, 25 February 1971, Rabin returns to the Civic Theater, San Diego to perform Bruch’s 1880 Scottish Fantasy, a work we do have in a commercial release from EMI.  Much in the tradition of Heifetz, whose 1947 recording restored the work to the active repertory, Rabin plays with fervor and enthusiasm, and fewer cuts than Heifetz takes in his two inscriptions. The opening Adagio cantabile, based on “Through the Wood Laddie,” pairs Rabin in double stops (in E-flat) and the San Diego obbligato harp in richly national colors. Rabin plies “Dusty Miller” in the second movement Allegro, which includes bag-pipe drones in the Tanz section. The heart of the work, Andante sostenuto, brings out the ardent soul in Rabin, too. “I’m a Doun for Lack O’Johnnie” provides the poignant “vocals” and their variants for this soulful rendition. The Finale: Allegro guerriero whoops up a Scottish war song, “Scots, Wha Hae,” commemorative of the Battle of Bannockburn (1314). Bruch once wrote that “Whoever bases a composition on folk melodies, his work can never become old and wizened.” The same might be said for the rare art of youthful Michael Rabin, who left us much too soon.
—Gary Lemco

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