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.
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.