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Michael Rabin (violin)
Violin Concerto No 2 in D minor Op.22 (1870) [23:49] ¹
Moto Perpetuo Op.11 [3:18] ²
Niccolò PAGANINI (1782-1840)
Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major, Op.6 (c. 1817-1818) [29:13] ¹
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Introduction et Rondo capriccioso (1863) [9:37] ²
Grigoras DINICU (1889 – 1949) Hora Staccato (1906) arranged Jascha Heifetz
[1:55] ²
Pablo de SARASATE (1844-1908)

Zigeunerweisen – Gypsy Airs Op.20 (1878) [9:24] ²
Michael Rabin (violin)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Eugene Goossens ¹
Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra/Felix Slatkin ²
rec. Studio No.1, Abbey Road, London, May 1960 (Concertos) and Samuel Goldwyn Studios, Hollywood, September 1959 (remainder)
MEDICI MM023-2 [77:56]
Experience Classicsonline


This is a well-selected slice of Rabin’s discography and it falls neatly into discrete parts. Rabin’s commercial concerto repertoire was pitifully small and the entirety of it was recorded in London with the Philharmonia under various conductors. Here we have two virtuoso warhorses – Wieniawski No.2 and Paganini No.1 accompanied by Eugene Goossens.

In the rather patchy recent biography of the violinist one did at least learn that Rabin’s own choice for conductors at this session was Susskind or Sargent but if they were unavailable (which they were) then, in descending order – Barbirolli, Giulini, Galliera, or von Matacic. Von Matacic asked for the lowest fees so naturally EMI approached him first – but he was busy. The company had initially countered with Fistoulari but in the event it was Goossens who presided, with whom Rabin had performed during his 1952 Australasian tour.

There is something of a depressing quality to these recordings. Not that they’re at all poor – quite the reverse – but it’s sobering to realise that so soon after the taping Rabin went so spectacularly off the rails. The notorious Berlin recital jeering was just one manifestation of the drugs quagmire into which he was slipping, though there were plenty of others. Here, no intimations of such frailties are apparent, even in works as demanding as these.

The Wieniawski has had many a stellar exponent – Heifetz, Elman and Stern are just three to spring to mind – but Rabin deserves his place at the top table. There are certainly still vestiges of his idol Heifetz’s finger position changes, and the ethos roughly approximates to that of the Russian player. Certainly the expressive contours are similar. But the tone production is Rabin’s own by now and he phrases with rapt tonal beauty throughout, not least in the pristine control and elegance of the slow movement. Note too his exuberant fillip at 2:46 in the finale and the brilliantly tight trill and marvellously fluid bowing. He plays the Flesch cadenza in the first movement.

The Paganini was recorded on the same day. Together with the Wieniawski it is indicative of the virtuoso fascination with which the young Rabin was held – he was twenty-four at the time. The playing is scrupulously clean and the tone is burnished and multi-variegated. This was a stereo remake of an earlier mono with von Matacic – and it shows Rabin in all his youthful glory, very adeptly followed by Goossens, himself an ex-fiddle player.

The other part of the disc’s equation is the session in Hollywood with Felix Slatkin. Rabin was taught by Galamian so he should be assured in the French idiom and he proves to be so in the Saint-Saëns. For all the virtuoso accretions that have attached to Rabin’s name, and for all his sometimes coarse written and verbal manner, he was an innately tasteful player as this performance shows. The Dinicu is rather done in the by orchestration which draws the ear way from the solo line, thereby diluting the tang of Heifetz’s arrangement. But the Sarasate redeems things with its burnish and control, its suggestive animation without an ounce of grandstanding.

Discographers will note that he’d already recorded the Saint-Saëns with the Philharmonia and Galliera in 1955, the Paganini Moto perpetuo and Zigeunerweisen with the Columbia Symphony and Voorhees.

The transfers have been sympathetically handled and there are good booklet notes by Tully Potter. This is a fireworks disc, it’s true, but they’re lit with such sensitive panache that you cannot fail to be won over by Rabin’s assured brilliance.

Jonathan Woolf


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