Skip to main content

 Recording of the Week  The world's most celebrated violins

Antonio Stradivari was undoubtedly one of - if not the - greatest violinmakers ever. The instruments he made, known by the colloquial term 'Strads', are highly prized, and only one other maker, Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù, commands a similar respect amongst professional violinists. Apart from violins, Stradivari also made violas and cellos, as well as guitars and at least one harp — more than 1000 instruments in all. Approximately 650 of these instruments survive today and they are spread throughout the world - many in the hands of professional musicians, plus some in museums and private collections.

James Ehnes
James Ehnes

The retired software magnate David Fulton has built up one such private collection. Instruments either formerly or currently in his collection have sustained some of the great careers of the 20th century, including those of Yehudi Menuhin, Itzhak Perlman and Isaac Stern. Personally, I’ve got mixed views about whether any of these instruments should be sitting un-played in private collections, but when you consider the outstanding condition of some of his instruments - his Stradivari ‘La Pucelle’ for example has no cracks, retouching or worn-out corners, and apparently looks like it has just left the makers hands - then there is certainly an argument to preserve a few of these instruments in such perfect condition.

My inspiration this weeks comes from the fact that he’s let Canadian violinist James Ehnes loose on his collection, and after spending years trying to decide what music best suited each instrument, Ehnes has now produced a fantastic CD/DVD featuring performances on 12 of them. On the CD, you can hear a hugely impressive recital of short pieces followed by ‘comparison tracks’ in which he plays the same brief passage from Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy. On these tracks you really hear the differences between the instruments, and it is remarkable how different they actually are – whether it be the purity of sound of something like the Stradivari ‘Pucelle’ or the vitality of the same maker’s ‘Baron d’Assignies’.

On the accompanying DVD you get the complete performances as well as the opportunity to see them as well. Close up shots include scrolls, fronts, backs and revolving shots to get a good idea of arching. The photography is fine and gives a real appreciation for the original varnish and wood quality. You also get to hear James Ehnes thoughts and an interview with David Fulton.

It is a unique and fascinating document which gives an insight into the world of these multi-million pound instruments. Really quite remarkable.

James Ehnes - Homage (CD/DVD)

A tribute to 12 of the world's finest instruments

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC