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In Death I Sweetly Sing: Instruments Noted at the 6th Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition (#micmc)

All you readers are of course connoisseurs of string instruments, so you will recognise the allusion. If you don’t, it comes from an inscription on a ancient lute. Google it. It is a lovely thought.

In April last, your correspondent wrote Part 1 of “In Death I Sweetly Sing”, a commentary on the fine range of old instruments in Adelaide for the Second Adelaide International Cello Festival. It was a joy to see and hear these played in concert and in masterclasses. More recently on this blog he has commented on the poor state of fine old instrument ownership in this country (Of Music, Mortals and Metamorphoses), notwithstanding the recent sterling efforts by the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Sydney Symphony, Jurlique, and the chronically underfunded National Instrument Bank.
Now, with a raft of fine young ensembles in Melbourne there is a treasure trove of fine instruments around. Not being party to all the groups and details of their instruments, one group has been selected at random (that’s journalist speak for “I’m not going to tell you why this group was selected”). The ensemble is the Piatti Quartet from the UK.

First violinist, Charlotte Scott, has, on long term loan, a lovely Tonini violin on loan from the widow of Jack Rothstein. Rothstein was, inter alia, leader of the Northern Sinfonia and Academy of St Martin in the Fields. He was an avid collector of violins, most of which have now been sold. He was clearly an astute investor, having, unlike most musicians, done very well out of session work in the London film and TV studios during the seventies. Generously, his widow Linn (also known as pianist Linn Hendry) knew quality when she heard it and offered Charlotte the Tonini.
Second violinist Michael Trainor currently plays a 1782 Giuseppe Gagliano on loan from the Northern Ireland Arts Council. In an echo of Australia’s poor situation, apparently this is the only fine old instrument owned by a Northern Ireland institution. Characteristicall modest, David says he got the violin because the only other violinists in Ireland are jig playrs in the pubs.

Violist David Wigram plays possibly the oldest instrument at the competition, a 1580 Gasparo de Salo, on loan from the Royal Academy of Music. An interesting instrument with a beautiful big tone, it was cut down at some early stage possibly from a tenor viola, a form common in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Its F-holes are quite long, possibly contributing to the good tone.
Also from the Royal Academy’s incredible collection of hundreds of instruments is the late seventeenth century Francesco Rugeri cello played by Jessie Ann Richardson. This is one of three Rugeri’s owned by the Academy. Rugeri was one of the makers who practised his trade from Venice and is credited with some of the finest cellos of his era.
Sadly, three of the above instruments will have to be relinquished by their players in the next year or so. But what a joy to have them to play in the important development phase of your career. Eat your heart out Aussie string players.

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