We had a great week trying violins. I have talked to all involved and I was their ok to talk about the results, but I was asked not to mention some particulars, so I will only write what I have been told is ok to write. I hope everyone understands.
Ok, a collector with a very impressive collection was here (I can only tell you about some of his violins, but he had many worth close to a million!). And a rather famous quartet was here too, so they contributed their instruments three great moderns (the best Bellini I have ever played, and the best Zygmuntowicz, also a very good Morales) and a Storioni, and a Nicolo Gagliano.
We contributed the Needham, which the people involved had asked to see and play.
Three days, playing them in all kinds of rooms, carpet, soundproof cork, wood, tile, and a hall. Three great players did most of the playing but we all had a chance to play them quite a bit.
Ending each day with dinner and a lot of talk about the violins and music in general was great! Two of the players will sooner or later embark on a solo career, I am sure about that, and they were great men. Something about the bonding that happens when good men who have the same interest get together and just talk. Great!
Some of he instruments that stood out were two 18th century Cremonas (not free to mention them) which had less presence then some but had a lot of color, great violins. There was an Amati there as well, and it was really special. Again a lot of color, but again less presence than a few of the other violins. Another great violin!
The Bellini was by far the best violin from that maker that I have played (I have played many Bellini’s). It just had guts! A real del Gesu sound with growl and hiss. And it projected and it was thick, even on the E. It was also very well balanced across the strings.
The Zyg was also by far the nest I have played from this maker (again played many before). It projected more than any violin there, without question. Power, power, power. The sound was much smoother than the Bellini, not a smooth strad sound, but not del Gesu like either. And it was very well balanced. A great instrument. I do not know which I would have picked if I could buy one of these two. They were so great and so different that it would have been hard to pick. I can tell you that most liked these two moderns more than the many older violins that were there. I can see why two great players own them and do not want to let go of them!
In the end, however, everyone thought it came down to the Needham and the Guadagnini (turin period). The Guad had a lot of guts, a very complex sound, projected well, and was thick. The violin just had no weakness. The Needham did not have as much color and the sound was not quite as complex, but it was not very far behind in these respects. What it did have was a thicker sound, and a lot more presence. The people involved kept going back and forth between these two, and I am not sure anyone could make up their mind.
Personally, I would take the Guadagnini that we just played over the Needham that is here, but the choice would haunt me afterwards if I had to chose one over the other. But then again, I do not have to worry about it because the asking price for the guad is more than I could ever stomach.
Well, in my mind the Needham finally met its match, in the hands of a maker who I am sure made some of the best instruments of all time. But I cannot help but wonder if I will feel the same when the Needham has aged a bit. I mean one instrument is 200 years old, while the other is new. And right now the instruments are really close, so what happens after the Needham ages a bit?
As for moderns: I can tell you that if you find the right Bellini or Zyg you will find a hell of a violin as well.
Have fun and play some great violins; it is life for the soul.
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