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The Violins of Cremona - A Tour with Salvatore Accardo
Audio PCM 2.0: Language: Italian. Subtitled English, French, German, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, Korean Picture: 16:9/NTSC; Colour
Region Code: 0
DYNAMIC 33742 [52:00]

Cremona is synonymous with the art of violin making. From Amati, Stradivari, Guarneri and thence to Bergonzi, art and workmanship conjoined to give rise to the greatest instruments in the history of the luthier’s art. Cremona still makes an important and living contribution to the production, restoration and preservation of violins, violas and cellos. It is against this historically vital background that Salvatore Accardo strolls through a near-deserted town, the pavement cafes unpeopled, the waitresses unseen, toward the Stradivari Museum where he meets an admired colleague, the curator Andrea Mosconi who shows him - and us - the various moulds, inlays, models, patterns and woods in the museum’s many cases. In case you have ever wondered about the sound post, Mosconi shows us how this little piece fits within the violin; without it the fiddle is as good as voiceless.
From the museum we join Accardo as he visits a maker and luthier using spruce to fashion a modern copy; a brief discussion then follows on the preference for deep red or golden varnish of the Japanese and Chinese: there are clearly strong national preferences in the matter. We hear Accardo playing his Guarneri; we also see him meet the Australian-born, Italy-domiciled maker and restorer Bruce Carlson, for whom Accardo has the highest of respect. Carlson, a reticent, watchful and not unhumourous man, has been repairing the sagging fingerboard of Accardo’s 1610 Maggini. We briefly watch Accardo examine the restored violin and can admire its double purfling. Inlay, neck, tip, fingerboard, purfling (single or double): the violin is a sexy instrument.
Lest the feverish imagination overtake us in the luthier’s studio, we return to the museum where Accardo tries out Joachim’s violin on a passage from Brahms’ Violin Concerto - ‘to make it feel at home’. Joachim premiered the work and it’s surely not mere superstition that makes Accardo say that ‘it plays on its own’. It’s full of harmonics, with not one empty note, he further says of the violin. Accardo smiles in admiration: ‘Remarkable - always exciting to play it’. It is largely thanks to the generosity of the Stauffer Foundation that so many great instruments (not all violins) have been preserved in the museum. One such is the 1566 Amati violin, one of the earliest surviving such instruments as we now understand them. Accardo is allowed to play it, the instrument being gently taken from its glass case by the elegant Mosconi. It’s quite small and was made for Charles, King of France. Accardo plays it and it sounds amazingly well; ‘even, on all the strings - a circular sound with no breaks’. Even some of the best Stradivari have breaks. It is, to Accardo, ‘miraculous’ that he can play the Brahms on it or even Bartók.
After the museum, and the luthiers, the repairs and the making, it’s finally time for a brief look at why the instruments were constructed in the first place; they were made to be played, after all. Thus, we eavesdrop a brief chamber rehearsal where teachers and students mingle; Accardo is there and so too violist Bruno Giuranna, colleagues down the long decades. We also see him teaching a talented violinist in his studio - the kind of thing familiar from two previous releases from Dynamic, both of which I have reviewed here.
So we take leave of Accardo as he sits on a bench reminiscing: how Naples scouted him as a goalkeeper when he was 14; how he admires the actor Totò, and how over-eager his own father was to see Accardo tackle the virtuoso repertoire. Accardo is delightful, quizzical, amusing and knowledgeable company. This is certainly not a travelogue, but it is necessarily specialised. If you do enjoy purfling, and the beauty of arched backs, it’s very much your pot of resin.
Jonathan Woolf