Legendary Treasures - Michael Rabin Collection Vol 2
BRAHMS Violin Concerto.1 Contemplation (arr. Heifetz).11 PROKOFIEV Violin Concerto No. 2.2 WIENIAWSKI Violin Concerto No. 1: Movt. 1 (2 versions).3,4 BRUCH Violin Concerto No. 1.5 MOHAUPT Violin Concerto.6 CRESTON Violin Concerto.7 BACH Violin Concerto, “Double”: Vivace.8 MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto: Mvmt. 3.9 MASSENET Elégie.10 KREISLER Caprice viennois.12 SAINT-SAËNS Introduction and Rondo capriccioso.13 PAGANINI Caprices: No. 5; No. 9; No. 13; No. 14; No. 17; No. 24.14 YSAŸE Solo Violin Sonata No. 3.15 SPALDING Dragonfly.16 MILHAUD Saudades do Brasil: Tijuca.17 SZYMANOWSKI La fontaine d’Aréthuse18
DOREMI’s collection of live recordings by Michael Rabin includes notes by Anthony Feinstein, whose book, Michael Rabin—America’s Virtuoso Violinist , Amadeus Press, was published in 2005. Feinstein, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto, managed to blend biographical narrative with creditable analysis of Rabin’s purely violinistic accomplishments and, ultimately, difficulties; and he does the same thing, though in brief, in his excellent notes. Rabin’s work, as he points out, falls naturally into two periods. Collectors will have already acquired the recordings he made in the studio during his early years for Columbia (Sony Masterworks Heritage 60894, 23:2) and for Angel (“Michael Rabin, 1936–1972,” EMI 64123 15:5)—and DOREMI has released a volume of live performances, including Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 8 and Fauré’s Violin Sonata No. 1, both from October 30, 1962, and Paganini’s 17th Caprice from August 7, 1950 (7715, 24:1). After that golden period, Rabin’s career collapsed (I tried to hear him several times, but he didn’t make his engagements, being replaced once by Roman Totenberg), only to be resurrected several years later. That’s what Feinstein calls the “controversial” period, citing conflicting opinions of Rabin’s reappearance by Henry Roth (who considered it unprepossessing) and Arnold Steinhardt, who discerned healthy vigor in the new Rabin.
Rabin stated, according to Feinstein, that if he were to have resumed his recording career, he’d have liked to begin with Brahms’s and Beethoven’s concertos. DOREMI’s opening of the first disc with a live performance of the Brahms Concerto from 1967 therefore seems particularly appropriate. Extraordinary noise from an overhead aircraft seems eerily significant in light of the discussion in Feinstein’s book of Rabin’s love of flying, which extended even to making model airplanes. Rabin does sound stronger and more hard-edged in this performance than listeners to the mellifluous concerto recordings from his years at EMI might have expected. Yet there’s plenty of warmth to balance his appealing incisiveness and clarity of definition (in addition to the rapt lyricism with which he returns with the orchestra after the cadenza). In this combination of steely strength and ingratiating warmth, he seems to have found a complement in both the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and in Rafael Kubelík. Though Heifetz may have been Rabin’s idol, the votary’s reading of Brahms remains a far distance from the Master’s in propulsive energy; and it seems even more focused than Heifetz’s taut readings had been on structural clarity rather than on Romantic atmosphere. Feinstein points out that though Rabin didn’t program 20th-century works regularly, he championed Prokofiev’s Second Concerto. In his performance of the work from 1968, Rabin’s hallmark appears more clearly identifiable than he may seem to be in Brahms’s work. Surely the first movement’s soaring second theme and the almost transcendentally ethereal song that opens the second movement provide just the kind of opportunities that Rabin found in Wieniawski’s concertos for a display of sumptuous lyricism of a kind that identifies his playing with Elman’s brand of tonalism (if not his penchant for waywardness), as well as with Heifetz’s searing intensity. Despite some occasional roughness in the first movement’s motoric double-stops, Rabin also generally succeeds in pressing his own electrifying technical command into service in creating spiky intensity in the agitated passages in all three movements. The notes might have pointed out that both Brahms’s Concerto and Prokofiev’s Second had also been Heifetz specialties. Feinstein suggests in his book that Zino Francescatti’s relationship with Rabin had been somewhat complicated by what readers might interpret as an interplay of Rabin’s adoration and Francescatti’s more straightforward admiration. Nevertheless, their collaboration in the first movement of the Bach “Double,” with each interweaving his distinct personality with the other’s, should make listeners wish that they had played the whole work that day. Mischa Elman’s famous exclamation to his accompanist, Joseph Seiger, upon hearing Rabin play Wieniawski’s First Concerto on the radio, that that ’s the only way to play it, makes his early live performances of the work of special interest. The one included in the first disc, from 1953, of the first movement, lacks some of what one of my students once described as the “Slavic ardor” that infuses his studio recording, but the technical passages have a freshness and lightning dexterity that seem even to surpass what he’d achieve in his reading with Boult and the Philharmonia Orchestra in 1957 (the first movement in that performance lasted almost a minute longer than this one’s 11:04, which includes an almost 10-second spoken introduction). The noise at the beginning shouldn’t detract from the sparkling appeal of this performance for Rabin’s followers. (Cuts in the orchestral part parallel those he made in the studio.)
DOREMI’s second disc begins with short pieces, the first three from 1951 for the Bell Telephone Hour: a seductively rich reading of Heifetz’s transcription of Brahms’s Contemplation ( Wie Melodien zieht es mir ), in which Rabin mimics Heifetz’s dashing manner to a T, and two pieces, an orchestrated version of Kreisler’s Caprice viennois (a piece he’d later record again, with Felix Slatkin and the Hollywood Bowl orchestra in 1959, with similar warmth and congeniality) and Saint-Saëns’s showpiece, Introduction and Rondo capriccioso , a Heifetz favorite that Rabin would also record in the studio—in fact, twice: once with Galliera in 1956 and again with Slatkin in 1959. Rabin made more of the work’s Spanish flavor (especially in the central episode) than Heifetz seemed to allow himself to indulge, yet he achieves a similarly electrifying effect overall. Performances of the third movement of Mendelssohn’s Concerto and Massenet’s Elégie come four years later, also for the Bell Telephone Hour. The announcer states that Rabin had made his debut with the orchestra in August 1950 with the same Mendelssohn; he’d record it in the studio two years later with Boult. This reading sparkles without Rabin pushing the tempo unduly (Ysaÿe’s famous reading seems, by comparison, headlong though dynamic) and exhibits some of the elegant portamentos that characterized his playing at this period, as does his contribution to Massenet’s Elégie . Two performances from a Berlin broadcast with Lothar Broddack (which also included the Beethoven and Fauré Sonatas mentioned above) from 1962 display Rabin in piquant and allusive moods; it doesn’t seem as though his apparatus had begun to deteriorate. Two concerto recordings follow. The first, a complete reading of Wieniawski’s First Concerto that took place on April 7, 1950, just a bit less than a month from Rabin’s 14th birthday, seems particularly remarkable because of the violinist’s youth. Wieniawski wrote the Concerto at 17, and a listener can’t help wondering whether Wieniawski himself could have played it as well at 13. Rabin doesn’t sprint in this performance, as he did through the later one from 1953, and, overall, the first movement makes the same stunning impression as (with fewer orchestral cuts) the later recorded version—enhanced, if anything, by the fact that Rabin still had seven years to go before the studio recording. Only the slightly cooler reading of the second theme sets this version apart from the famous collaboration with Boult. Otherwise, the double-stopped chords ring with the same resonance and the passagework displays the same winning panache, though Blackman and the National Orchestra Association don’t provide the same sympathetic support as did Boult and the Philharmonia Orchestra; still, they certainly allow the soloist more dance-like verve in the finale alla polacca . Rabin had chosen to record Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy in 1957, but not the more popular First Concerto. As Feinstein notes, when he played that First Concerto with Schippers in Berlin in 1969, his recording career had ended. Rabin still possessed some of the old-fashioned charm that he had brought to the Scottish Fantasy about a dozen years earlier, but, as in the Brahms Violin Concerto, he gave evidence of greater clarity, with less tendency to luxuriate in his seductive sound—even though the first movement’s most winning passages and the slow one’s melting lyricism still can haunt the listener’s imagination with echoes of Rabin’s past. But there’s excitement, too, conspicuously absent from the reading of the finale of Tchaikovsky’s Concerto on the Bell Telephone Hour (from VAI’s video 4215), which seems so much blander than Ricci’s on the same disc.
The third disc begins with solo performances. Rabin had recorded 11 Paganini caprices in 1950 for Columbia and the whole set in 1958 for Angel. So these readings, from 1961, represent the latest word we have, and they’re authoritative, with what seems more Italian lyricism, more of Francescatti’s dash (listen to the octaves in No. 17 or to the first variation in No. 24), and less simple cut and thrust (though equal attention to detail)—and, what’s more, they’re live! Alone, these should justify the entire price of DOREMI’s set. Rabin’s studio performances of Ysaÿe’s Third and Fourth Solo Violin Sonatas appeared in 1955, so this live performance of the Third from 1961 represents, again, somewhat later thinking—as did Oistrakh’s performance, it crackles with an authority that never struck me in Angel’s version. Albert Spalding’s Dragonfly (a study in arpeggios for solo violin that crosses the finale of Bartók’s Solo Violin Sonata with Locatelli’s Labyrinth ) provides fodder for Rabin’s technical cannon. Richard Mohaupt’s Concerto, which, according to Feinstein, Olin Downes considered a vehicle for a violinst but dry (I believe that Downes called Stravinsky’s Concerto a “futile thing”), sounds pretty exciting and very accessible in this reading—and, particularly in the first movement, as interesting as several of the concertos written for Heifetz (need I specify which ones?). That first movement, Capriccio, combines cinematic breadth with virtuosity, and Rabin plays it with high drama. In fact, it may be rather a shame that it hasn’t received any other recordings, unlike Creston’s Second Concerto, which also bears a strong connection to Rabin, its dedicatee and first performer. The first movement of that work seems a combination of Bartókian dissonance in the violin part (also characteristic of the cadenza in the second movement, which tests even Rabin’s accuracy) and a sort of ethnic American idiom (especially evident in the middle section of the long second movement, Andante). This kind of work didn’t offer Rabin the kind of lush melodic arches that his chosen repertoire enabled him to project, yet he makes a strong impression. The notes state that the archival material seems damaged at the opening, but, aside from the relatively poor quality of the recorded sound in general, it’s not disturbing in itself. But these two performances—of fresh works by Mohaupt and Creston—help complete the portrait of the artist that’s been disfigured by rumor and tragedy.
Any Rabin aficionado—and who isn’t one?—will have to acquire this set, but so will others who simply wonder about what became of the promising young talent who seemed to disappear from the world stage so suddenly. My impression from these recordings (I’d asked DOREMI’s Jacob Harnoy several years ago about the availability of live performances from the later years) seems more like Steinhardt’s than like Roth’s. Rabin had acquired a strength that made his performances sound somehow more modern, yet without the anonymity that often accompanies stripped-down playing. The recorded sound, perhaps generally worse in the earlier recordings, always seems adequate in view of what we’re listening to. Besides the Heifetz “Original Jacket Collection,” it’s hard to think of anything that could deserve a stronger, more urgent, recommendation, except, perhaps, for Rabin’s studio recordings (and maybe Feinstein’s book, which I also enthusiastically recommend), if they weren’t already available.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Catalog Number: DHR-7951-3
Composer: Albert Spalding, Camilla Mohaupt, Camille Saint-Saëns, Darius Milhaud, Eugène Ysaÿe, Felix Mendelssohn, Fritz Kreisler, Henri Wieniawski, Johann Sebastian Bach, Johannes Brahms, Jules Massenet, Karol Szymanowski, Max Bruch, Niccolò Paganini, Paul Creston, Sergei Prokofiev
Conductor: Alfred Wallenstein, André Vandernoot, Charles Blackman, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Donald Voorhees, Rafael Kubelik, Thomas Scherman, Thomas Schippers
Orchestra/Ensemble: Bell Telephone Hour Orchestra, Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Little Orchestra Society, Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, National Orchestral Association, New York Philharmonic
Performer: Brian Sullivan, Lothar Broddack, Michael Rabin, Zino Francescatti