French double-bassist Francois Rabbath may be better known as a teacher than as a performer, but his stunning display for an audience on Tuesday at the Benson Great Hall on the campus of Bethel University dispelled this notion. The performance was breath taking and very emotional as well as technically and sonically beautiful.
Rabbath’s innovations in music theory changed the way thousands of contrabassists approach their instruments. Born in Syria in 1931, Rabbath has lived in France for decades. Accompanied by his son Sylvain Rabbath on piano, the bassist astonished and delighted the spellbound audience for more than 90 minutes.
He opened the recital with a hypnotic piece that resembled Indian classical music which was inspired by Ravi Shankar. The selection was the first of many instances in which Rabbath dismissed the known concept of stylistic boundaries. In addition to his affection for sounds from around the globe, Rabbath’s classical work is clearly informed by jazz, and has a distinct European classical sound. More than once, a piece that began with footing in one style would transmute into a different musical sphere.
The endearing bond between father and son during extended improvisations was engrossing. The pianist often followed the profoundly spiritual depths of his father’s statements with respectfully plaintive responses, while Rabbath added wistful insights to his son’s solos. Sylvain accompanied his father on piano between most of the evening selections.
While Rabbath downplayed his adroitness on most selections, he’s not above a bit of showmanship. The giddiest moment occurred when ten workshop participants joined the Rabbaths to take brief bass solos. In the end, the crowd cheered and wiped their eyes, for truly they had just witnessed the beauty of sound and the presence of a master artist.