S0524. MICHAEL RABIN: The Unpublished Recordings, 1947 – 1971, incl. Bach, Paganini, Saint-Saëns, Debussy, Chopin, Sarasate, de Falla, Lalo, Kreisler, Dvorák, Wieniawski, Schalit, Brahms, Schumann, Bruch, Kroll & John Alden Carpenter. (England) 3-Testament Stereo/Mono SBT3 1470, recorded 1947 – 1971. Final copy! - 749677147020
“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. 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; and 5 in a; 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, accompanied by 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, Audiophile Audition, 22 Feb., 2012
"Michael Rabin managed to be one of the most talented and tragic violin virtuosi of his generation. Hailed as a child prodigy, his talent matured gracefully into an adult level, but he failed to follow in his emotional growth, resulting in a cutting short of his career. He never reached the age of 36, yet remains one of the most fondly remembered of virtuoso violinists for listeners and fellow musicians such as Pinchas Zukerman, with whom he shared a teacher. Rabin's father was a violinist in the New York Philharmonic, and his mother a Juilliard-trained pianist. When he was a year old, Rabin was able to beat perfect time, and at three he demonstrated his possession of perfect pitch; by five he was studying the piano, and not long after, while visiting a doctor whose hobby was the violin, Rabin took up a miniature version of the instrument that was in the office and began tuning and playing it, refusing to return it. His father began teaching him the instrument soon after, but before their fifth lesson, the elder Rabin realized that his son's musicianship exceeded his own. Ultimately Rabin studied with Ivan Galamian, the future teacher of Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman. Rabin made his first professional appearance in 1947, at age ten, with the Havana Philharmonic under Artur Rodzinski, performing the Wieniawski Concerto #1. He made his recording debut two years later, on the Columbia Masterworks label, with a set of 11 of Paganini's Caprices for solo violin. The following year came Rabin's Carnegie Hall debut, at age 13, with the Vieuxtemps Concerto No. 5, in a performance that had him hailed in The New York Times as 'already an accomplished artist...play[ing] with real grace and beauty of tone'. No less a figure than the conductor George Szell declared Rabin the greatest violin talent that had come to his attention in the previous 30 years, and Dimitri Mitropoulos called Rabin 'the genius violinist of tomorrow'. In the 1950s, Rabin signed with Capitol-EMI, for which he recorded the most important part of his legacy, including the Paganini Violin Concerto No. 1, the first and second violin concertos of Wieniawski, and the Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn, and Glazunov concertos. At the end of the 1950s, Rabin suddenly cut short his recording career, for reasons that were never clear. He continued to perform regularly in concerts around the world, and even made broadcast recitals during the 1960s revealed his talents undiminished. There were accounts of his emotional instability, and an unstable personal life -- he had a rough time adjusting to the change from child prodigy to adult virtuoso, though his talent showed no signs of abatement; during the late '60s there were stories of chronic drug use; he also displayed some unusual neuroses, including a fear of falling off the stage, but none of that should have affected his recording career while leaving his concert career intact. In any case, Rabin never entered a recording studio again after 1959, and in 1972, while still in the prime of his life died in a fall when he slipped on a parquet floor and struck his head on a chair. Rabin's legacy on record is principally concentrated in EMI's catalog. The complete Paganini 24 Caprices for solo violin are available as a single CD, while the rest of his output has been released in a six-CD set [S0513], containing virtually all of his concerto recordings. They remain seminal recordings of each of the pieces."
- Bruce Eder, Rovi