What do you think about Michael Rabin?

August 19, 2008 at 06:27 PM · I was familiar with Michael Rabin from a long time ago when I heard his Cd, The Early Years. I loved it, and listened to it over and over. I just received Rabin's Boxed Set through the mail from ArkivMusic.com (the best classical music resource, for those of you who aren't familiar). Upon listening to it I was re-introduced to the brilliance of Michael Rabin's playing.

Replies (31)

August 19, 2008 at 06:52 PM · He was a great violinist. No question. Was he arguably the greatest of the past century? I would say no, but I think if you poll 50 people on this website you would probably get at least a dozen different names. You can probably find such a poll if you look at past threads. Heifetz would probably be the one who gets the most votes (although not mine). So, I am not sure this question is a useful one. Let's admire and enjoy him for his genius and virtuosity without worrying about whether he was the greatest.

August 19, 2008 at 07:06 PM · Rabin was a brilliantly gifted violinist with a gorgeous and generous tone. He had everything it takes to easily meet all challenges to a violinist's facility. He had a wonderfully smooth legato and terrific articulation. I had the privilege of listening to him practicing the Paganini 17th Caprice. The runs articulated like a stick being drawn across a picket fence! I did not know him well, but I did speak with him briefly. He was kind, and he had a great sense of humor. I have all of his recordings, and am grateful for the happiness that his playing has brought to me.

That being said, there is something which for me, keeps his playing out of the very highest stratosphere of my violin heroes, such as Milstein, Kreisler and Heifetz: These three had the kind of exquisitely refined taste, similar to the greatest of actors, whose sentiment is all the more believable and all the more intense because it is never sentimental.

August 19, 2008 at 10:52 PM · No, I don't As a violin lover and not a

violinist myself, I am certain that Heifetz

was the greatest violinist of the 20th.century

and very probably, of all times.

August 19, 2008 at 11:56 PM · Number one? I think there's a small argument that could be made. Top 10, definately! To me, Rabin's playing is very clean, very musical, and with great tone. However, to me he didn't have that sort of "fire" that Heifetz had (at least in a majority of his recordings). Heifetz was pretty much the perfect package.

My personal top 10 of the 20th century would be:

1. Heifetz

(the rest in no particular order)










August 20, 2008 at 12:15 AM · I like cheesecake myself.

August 20, 2008 at 01:40 AM · Personally, I always hear somebody, a more or less unknown somebody, who plays some fantastic turn of phrase, for example, and I think none of the big names came up with something that interesting in that place.

August 20, 2008 at 01:18 AM · This post is slightly off the original topic, but, Marty, I can't see how Oistrakh didn't make your list!

August 20, 2008 at 01:30 AM · Or Aaron Rosand

August 20, 2008 at 01:51 AM · That's not Rosand's list. That's the usual suspects.

August 20, 2008 at 02:41 AM · Christopher...it's my personal list. Perhaps he would be 11.

August 20, 2008 at 01:09 PM · Marty, I am quite surprised to see Zukerman in the list of your top ten...and not Oistrach for instance... does your list in clude great musicians and interprete as well? Being a very skilfull violinist or a phenomenal one does not mean, for me to be a great violinist. This has to be appreciated both ways, musicality first. I would not personnaly include Rabin in the list of great violinists, not even Kogan. Like Milstein said himself about Kogan, phenomenal is just not enough...For instance, we all know that Szegeti did not have the brilliance of Heifetz. But is recital programs were so different and his aim were focused so much on musicality and originality...No offence. P.S., big fan of Bruckner also.


August 20, 2008 at 01:49 PM · Well, I don't know about the "best" or any such lists, but as to Michael Rabin, I heard him play once at the Robin Hood Dell in about 1961 or '62.

I was sitting way in the back of an immense audience, and couldn't see him in great detail, however.

He played the Paganini 1st Concerto, and it was spectacular beyond words. He played with a technical and musical mastery that was breathtaking. The sound of it is still etched in my memory, even after all these years.

In addition, that "missing" element so many feel that Rabin lacked was there in full force that night. He played with real abandon and "heart."

I consider it my great fortune to have heard him play in person, even if only that one time.

Shortly after that, I bought his recording of the Paganini 1st (I think he made it at about the same year as the concert I heard). While the recording is one of the best, in my opinion, of any of them, it pales by comparison with what I heard live.


August 20, 2008 at 02:01 PM · Rabin is one of my favorites. There is a marvelous book by Anthony Feinstein, titled "Michael Rabin: America's Virtuoso Violinist", ISBN 1-57467-109-X, that is worth reading.

I think there is no question that Rabin was Galamian's greatest student. In fact, Rabin "made" Galamian's name as a great teacher. (That was something my own teacher emphatically believed, and he was studying with Galamian the same time Rabin was).

My favorite recordings by Rabin are the Scottish Fantasy, and Meditation from 'Thais'. Rabin is also on the DVD "Violinists of the Bell Telephone Hour".

Also, I don't think "The Greatest" is so important. The repertoire is so huge, and careers are so varied, that I think it is impossible to pin that label on any one musician.

August 20, 2008 at 09:34 PM · I think he had the second-best technique, only Heifetz had more facility. As a Westerner I too would tend to prefer Russian- or Jewish-style players - Kogan, Zukerman etc - rather than 'American'; but is this just prejudice? It's so hard to be objective, though perhaps his personal failings - reliance on drugs etc - would disqualify him.

August 21, 2008 at 02:37 AM · I don't know about the best, but I much prefer him over someone like Heifetz... Love that tone

May 19, 2012 at 08:47 AM · Has anyone listened to the recent Testament release "Michael Rabin, the unpublished recordings"? It contains a fabulous recital with pianist Brooks Smith (yes, Heifetz's accompanist!), his first ever recordings (1947-49) as well as the Brahms concerto and Bruch's scottish fantasy (1970-71)live in San Diego...

May 20, 2012 at 06:28 PM · I shall get out my LPs of Rabin and "put" them on CDs. I'll refresh my memories of my pre-CD days before commenting.

I have never touched drugs (not even canabis..) but I am surprised more musicians don't succumb. In France, Christian Ferras started a stellar career with a brilliant, glowing style akin to Rabin's before alcohol got the better of him.

His interview in "The Way They Play" shows a shy, sensitve person facing up to his enormous talent.

Public expectations plus personal perfectionism have destroyed many a talent.

In my mind's ear, I hear a wonderful alliance of power and sweetness.

May 23, 2012 at 06:30 AM · From the inside or the outside?

May 23, 2012 at 07:34 AM · Michael Rabin is certainly outstanding, his recordings are always exceptional and i never heard anything, not a single note from him wich sounds mediocre.

I personally don't like Heifetz recordings too much. I prefer Milstein and Oistrakh and sometimes Kogan too. That has to do with tone colour and phrasing. Heifetz is always a big gesture, wich is on the long run boring and not appealing to me.

I don't want a Heifetz discussion, its just my opinion and taste and I know most people on the internet will disagree.

To me the violinists of the 20 th century all stand side by side fighting for the same thing. They all came from a grat tradition and gave their personal and individual feelings and stylistic ideas to music. Playing them out against each other will bring you into the mindset of many music colleges and universities, where young musicians fight against each other rather then sharing ideas and helping each other.

May 23, 2012 at 12:25 PM · I wonder if the ancient Greeks had discussions like this.

"Say, who's the better god, Apollo or Zeus?"

May 23, 2012 at 09:58 PM · Right, I've done some serious listening!

Paganini: he actually gets my full attention by giving great substance to this over-inflated "pretty" music: marvelous!

Mendelssohn: ponderously overweight!

Glazounov: fabulous, but I still prefer Milstein;

Tchaikovsky: as intense as Oistrakh, but more lyrical;

Wienawski: as for Paganini; a redicovery..

Bruch's Scottish Fantasy: marvelous, though I like a little more sweet nostalgia here;

Encores: he is a wonderful comunicator.

So he joins my desert-island discs collection, together with Grumiaux (Bach, Mozart & Stravinsky), Perlman (Beethoven, Brahms & Barber), Zukerman (Mendelssohn, Bruch & Lalo), Chung (Elgar & Prokoviev), Menuhin (Bloch ,Berg, Bartok & Bruch's D minor), Milstein (Dvorak, Glazunov & Goldmark), Heifetz (Walton, Korngold, Scottish Fantasy) and Hassid, who makes me want to throw my violin out of the window!

All very superficial on my part, but great fun!

May 25, 2012 at 01:49 PM · Rabin was a violinist's violinist, who earned the awed admiration of other greats ranging from Oistrakh to Perlman. His incredible technique, his full, rich tone, and his fine musicality all put him in a very high tier, indeed. When you hear him tear into the Wieniawski 1st, toss off the Paganini Moto Perpetuo - which he recorded in one take! - you could reasonably conclude that it doesn't get any better.

Also I highly recommend the bio, "Michael Rabin - America's Virtuoso Violinist" by Anthony Feinstein. I understand it's been revised. I have the original.

And yet...

When all is said and done, as the complete artist/musician/virtuoso delving deeply and exquisitely into a large swath of the repertoire I wouldn't put him up with Heifetz, Milstein, Oistrakh, Grumiaux, Rosand, and with some technical flaws, Menhuin and Stern and a couple of others. Rabin had a meat-and potatoes solidity that worked marvelously well for certain things but kept him from the heights and depths of others. Of course, no one can be 'all things to all men'. But musically, Rabin's swath was somewhat narrower than those I mentioned.

What might have been had he or Hassid had lived longer? What about Mozart? Would he have out-Beethovened Beethoven? What about Mike Tyson vs Mohammed Ali magically brought back on their respective best nights? We can only idly speculate about such things on our next round of beer!

But one thing is very clear. THE violinist of the 20th century was JASCHA HEIFETZ. You don't have to like him for everything or even anything. Heifetz himself said that there is no best. But as far as influence and domination, there is simply no question. In fact Rabin as a young man made a big faux pas in front of Elman when he said that his greatest desire was to play like Heifetz! Kreisler ("Gentleman, we can all break our violins over our knees!") Milstein ("I can't do what he can do"), Oistrakh ("There are violinists, then there is Heifetz. Heifetz is in a class by himslef"), Szerying ("The Emperor"), Perlman ("God"), Zukerman ("The greatest"), Rosand ("probably the greatest master of them all") Stern ("For string players he was the single most dominant influence of the 20th century. It was clear beyond discussion that no other violinist had quite THIS mastery, THIS control, THIS constant flow of polished fire") - the list goes on and on of arguably violin kings who acknowledged Heifetz as The Emperor. And taking a cue from another thread, if you disagree with me, I shall smite you! I may smite you with locusts; I may smite you with festering boils. Or I may get really serious and smite you with an overdose of Sevcik. But smite you, I will!

OK, time for my morning meds!

May 25, 2012 at 03:33 PM · Raphael, your are getting tired: I thought if I didn't mention Gitlis in my list, you would send the men in the white coats. Putting Heifetz at the top is just a little too easy!

May 25, 2012 at 04:06 PM · Sorry, Raphael, I was confusing your post with one of Sander's old ones..

May 25, 2012 at 05:12 PM · Oh, that's OK. I'll put my smiting bow away!

May 25, 2012 at 10:43 PM · Without taking anything away from Paganini, purely in terms of violin talent, he was probably up there with any fiddler who ever lived. And his technical innovations and his compositions...

BUT - I really think that if we could build a time machine, fetch Pag., bring him back to play for us - and this is important - without allowing him the benefit of witnessing any developments after his time - I think we would be disappointed in his playing, if we were expecting the greatest imaginable violin playing. Standards in tone production, intonation, consistentcy etc. developed and changed since his time. It also has to do with the nature of our gorgeous, but unforgiving instrument, and I have a feeling that we'd be less diasspointed (if at all) if we could similarly hear Liszt at the piano.

I think of Pag. as the Isaac Newton of the violin - but Heifetz as the Einstein of the violin. Without Newton there may not have been an Einstein and even as listeners, we are standing on the shoulders of giants. In this connection i'd like to recommend the excellent book,"Violin Virtuosos from Paganini to the 21st Century" by Henry Roth. He pretty much makes my point (or do I make his?) in convincing detail, and it's a wonderful read generally, with portraits and analysis of many of the greats. You can almost hear them play!

Now, just for fun, I am reminded of how, a long time ago we speculated about casting violinists in different roles. As a casting director with a time machine, I'd like to do a remake of Shirlock Holmes, with Heifetz as the famed detective, Kreisler as Dr. Watson - and Paganini as Prof. Moriarty. Can't you just picture it?

May 26, 2012 at 01:00 AM · But surely Einstein was the Einstein of violin.

May 26, 2012 at 12:24 PM · lol! For those who may not know, Einstein was a dedicated, but not very good amateur violinist. Once he coralled the great cellist, Piatigorsky, to play chamber music with him. After the session Einstein asked him: "Tell me honestly, what do you think of my playing?" P. hesitated, then said "you play, uhm, RELATIVELY well!"

May 27, 2012 at 12:03 PM · But how good was Mr. X? ;-)

BTW, Kreisler was a violinist who came around once in - well, once!

May 27, 2012 at 01:02 PM · I remember Michael Rabin when I was in my teens and my violin teacher was so excited about his playing. This was only a few month before he died. His sudden death and the circumstances did hurt us all that time very much.

There are always great violinists and I have a hard time to compare at all. As soon as you compare you are not listening to what the virtuoso plays but rather what he does not play. It takes away from the admiration and appreciation of all the hard work and talent a great musician is sharing with us. I did not like all interpretation of Rabin, just because they were for my taste too fast and I value soul and feel over technical perfection.

Still Michael Rabin will always have a place in my heart as one of the greats which I will never reach in my life time.

June 4, 2012 at 01:28 AM · Based on Rabin's recordings, my impression is of a sensational technique and solid beautiful tone. The debits would be a career shortened by debility that was never satisfactorily explained, and a lack of poetry and "phrase making" that would put him in the very top elite. When I listen to the recordings of people like Heifetz, Milstein, Stern, Oistrakh, Perlman, etc., every one of them from time to time did something sensational and unforgettable in molding phrases, lifting a work even beyond what the composer put there in the notes.


Heifetz at the end of the 1st mvt of the Brahms concerto; 2nd mvt of the Tchaikiovsky Souvenir of Florence; last variation of the Dvorak Dumky Trio; Sibelius Concerto and many others

Stern: the Bartok Concerto, a sensational performance that dwarfs all the others (IMHO), Schubert Trio No. 1 with Rose and Istomin

Milstein: Dvorak Concerto, Bach Solo Sonatas and a lot more

Oistrakh: his inimitable Schubert Fantasie in C with Bauer

Rabin seems to me like a player who just didn't perform long enough to develop the insights and interpretive capabilities of the top-echelon masters. Technique he had to burn.

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