Also, 24 Caprices; Rossini Variations; The Carnival of Venice. Michael Rabin, Yehudi Menuhin, Frank Peter Zimmermann, and Salvatore Accardo, violin; Sir Eugene Goossens, Alberto Erede, and Franco Tamponi, conductors; Philharmonia Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. EMI Classics (France) 7243 5 75332-2 (2-disc set).
When the CD age dawned in the early Eighties, I had a long list of things I wanted to get on compact disc. Over the years the list shortened, and by just a few years ago it was down to only two items. Now, with my finding the Paganini, I’ve completed the list.
Michael Rabin recorded his remarkable performance of Paganini’s First Violin Concerto way back in 1960 with Sir Eugene Goossens and the Philharmonia Orchestra. I didn’t come to it until the late Sixties, however, by which time it had gone on to the budget label, Seraphim, and later I managed to find it on an EMI Electrola German issue. The sound wasn’t so hot, but the interpretation was the best I had ever heard, and the best I’ve yet to hear. In its opening movements Rabin’s violin sings lyrically and melancholically and plaintively, and in the final movement it struts and dances, the cock o’ the walk. Never have I heard such verve, such exceptional vibrancy and wit and energy, as in Rabin’s reading. Indeed, the only minor drawback for some listeners may be the traditional cuts Rabin makes in the score, but the very conciseness of the result for me works in its favor, rendering every note all the more succulently.
But that’s not all. I had never expected the sound to be much more than passable; it was the performance I cherished. Besides, the later recording by Itzhak Perlman, also on EMI, was sonically splendid enough if it were just sound I was after. Imagine my surprise and delight to discover that this first-time transfer of Rabin to CD also sounds magnificent. In fact, in many ways it surpasses Perlman’s rendition. Rabin’s violin sounds perhaps a touch too close, and its tone is just a tad bright, but it is marvelously clean and alive; and the orchestral accompaniment, while somewhat recessed overall is, nevertheless, highly dynamic, with plenty of low-end sock. Moreover, there is hardly a trace of background noise you’ll notice, unless you turn up the volume to the threshold of pain.
All in all, this two-disc set is worth its price for the First Violin Concerto alone, but there is more. It’s filled out with Yehudi Menuhin’s recording of the Second Concerto, also from 1960, and also splendidly transferred to disc. Menuhin hasn’t quite the zip or dash of Rabin, but the Second Concerto makes a fine companion. As does Frank Peter Zimmermann’s playing of Paganini's 24 Caprices, recorded in 1984-85. Although you’ll find these violin studies in bravura showmanship done equally well or better by (who else?) Rabin, available on EMI’s Great Recordings of the Century series, who’s to argue with icing on the cake with Zimmermann’s renditions. Finally, there are two short Paganini pieces done by Salvatore Accardo, with Franco Tamponi and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe backing him, recorded in 1983, and these pieces, too, are appealing and well recorded.
Perhaps the only snag in this affair is the fact that as of this writing only EMI Music France has made the set available (at mid-price). But various sites on-line have it available, like Amazon.com and TowerRecords.com. For me, it was worth every penny of its twenty-odd-dollar asking price, and I see now that you can get it for much less than that. Besides, who knows, maybe someday Warner Classics, the new owners of EMI, will see fit to issue it in this country.
Oh, and that one remaining item on my list I finally found? The Mozart “Jupiter” Symphony with Eugene Jochum and the Boston Symphony on DG. Practically every critic in the world at the time of its mid-Seventies release on LP recommended it, yet the folks at DG still have not released it on CD in the U.S. Maybe they are still waiting to give it a big entrance. Meanwhile, DG did issue the recording on CD in Germany, and, yes, I found it, almost by accident, at a German import site. But all of this is beside the point. The Paganini is available; think about it.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here: