The `genius of tomorrow` left a recorded legacy

by King Durkee | Mar 1, 2001
The `genius of tomorrow` left a recorded legacy PAGANINI: 24 Caprices for Solo Violin, Op. I. Michael Rabin, violin. EMI Classics 67462; Mono ADD.

At the middle year of the last century, a very young violinist made his debut at Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic and thereby announced his presence to the music world, a presence the orchestra`s renowned conductor, Dmitri Mitropoulos, called "the genius violinist of tomorrow."

A tomorrow that could have fulfilled Mitropoulos`s prophesy never came for the young genius-in-training. He died tragically at an early age. His name was Michael Rabin, son of a prominent American musical family, trained at the famed Juillard School in New York City.

In 1958, just 21 years old, the young violinist recorded on Capitol Records these 24 caprices for solo violin by the Italian violinist and composer Niccolo Paganini (1782-1840).

It is possible that Paganini wrote his caprices for what may have been meant to be simply exercises, intended to show the almost unending musical possibilities of the instrument in the hands of a virtuoso who could prompt the queen of all musical instruments to reveal her treasures of sound that, when she had been created by a master craftsman, had been built into her.

As the notes with this disc inform us, there is no record that Paganini himself ever played his caprices in public.

The caprices remain today among the tougher nuts to crack in all of the literature for violin. Through the medium of recordings, we have a good record of how various violinists have recorded them over the years; often not all of the caprices, more usually a selected number to be combined with other works on a particular recording. Still, in very recent times we have had outstanding recordings of the entire set of 24 by such virtuoso violinists of this day as Itzhak Perlman and Midori.

The caprices are short works, mostly very short, running from 1:07 to 6:22. It`s possible that pieces in such abbreviated form gave rise to the suggestion that the works may have been written as exercises for the virtuoso violinist; and might not Paganini himself been one of those violinists as he practiced his exercises, as do all great artists for as long as they play.

The demands of the pieces push the capabilities of even the best of acquired techniques to the very limit. And playing them successfully, means not simply mustering the velocity they require and plowing through them to an exhausted conclusion - for both the performer and the listener - but rather an approach to the intricacies of the works that sometimes seem impossible to accomplish.

I am far from suggesting that the works should seem to be played effortlessly. But in the hands of a master, we can see - we can hear - them played with a sense of absolute surety. I have in mind the way a noted American violinist of a few years back, Ruggiero Ricci, used to play them. When one watched him play, he did make the task seem to be effortless.

When this recording was released in 1959, it garnered praise from all quarters. It was widely held to be, if not the only, then one of a vary small handful of recordings, that deserved the name definitive. It deserves that accolade - still to be shared with but a very few - to this day.

It is great good fortune to have this hallmark recording now in the catalog in its 2001 remastered version. We enjoy an improvement in sound that enables us to hear even better, and more of, the extraordinary artistry of Michael Rabin.

SONGS OF THE ROMANTIC AGE: Patrice Michaels Bedi, soprano; Deborah Sobol, piano. Cedille Records 90000 019.

It perhaps is not stretching things too far to measure the great arias of opera in multiple carats, but the beauty to be found in the great wealth of art song as semiprecious stones.

Both classes have their place in the great quantity and great variety of literature for voice, and to suggest one class be elevated above the other would be most improper; one would be much the lesser without both of them.

There are 25 art songs - which is to say, songs of considerable sophistication, often with elaborate accompaniment - on this disc. The composers include such giants as Debussy, Chausson, Faure, Chopin, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Wolf, R. Strauss, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Ives, Rachmaninoff, Delibes, others; in all, 25 songs by 25 different composers.

They are short works, running from 1:07 to just under six minutes. They most generally are the kind of songs meant to be sung at a recital of works by various composers. Indeed, the notes with the disc tell us "Thus, the songs ... encompass eight distinct national styles and range chronologically from 1837 to 1921."

All 25 of the poems to which the songs were written are reproduced in the notes with this disc. And this suggestion from me: if you`re not going to take time to read the lyrics, don`t even bother to listen to the music; not to understand the words would be to deprive yourself of most of the meaning and therefore most of the value of the songs.

The artist on this disc is soprano Patrice Michaels Bedi. She has enjoyed an extensive and successful career in North America as a recitalist and as a soloist with major American symphony orchestras and opera companies.

I have nothing but praise for her renditions of the songs in this rather demanding program. She sings with a sure tonality, excellent pitch and a clarity that is most impressive. She has that marvelous ability of being able to command her voice to match the mood of the work at hand. She never pushes the limitations of the music itself; rather she makes the best use of what it does have to offer. Godard`s lovely "Chanson de juin" ("Song of June"), the piece that opens her program, is a case in point.

And I must not forget to offer kudos to the accompanying artist, Deborah Sobol, for her splendid contribution on the piano, a contribution that, as so often is the case in art songs, went far beyond mere accompaniment.

In sum, a thoroughly delightful listening experience in which the beauty of art song is most admirably displayed.

(c) Copley News Service

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Author: King Durkee

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