I had a lovely morning yesterday talking to cellist Natalie Clein for two forthcoming articles – about her new Saint-Saëns disc, for Sinfini Music and about the beautiful 'Simpson' Guadagnini she plays, for Cozio. So the subjects ranged all over the place, but towards the end we got to talking about modern instruments. Natalie is extremely positive about the benefits of playing them, saying, 'What I love about modern instruments is that they’re like fountain pens. They allow you to mould your way of playing on to a blank canvas, whereas old instruments have had other players to play them in.'
What I'd never heard before is how it's possible to gauge the way an instrument has been played without even witnessing it directly, as she explains: 'I play a lot of new cellos when I’m teaching, because many of my students have them. If a pupil has a problem with vibrato you can feel it in the instrument – you can feel that they haven’t done vibrato properly, enough, on the instrument.' Furthermore, she says, 'I can feel if someone good or bad has played my cello even for five minutes. If someone good has played the instrument it feels fresh.'
The interesting corollary of this is that great players have a role in making instruments better, as she says: 'Part of the reason the great old instruments are so great is that great players have played them throughout history. Their in-tune notes and beautiful vibrato have moulded themselves into the soundscape and the soundwaves over the years. I'm not the only person to have said this.'
For those still longing to discover the 'secret' of Stradivarius, could there be something in this? That the genius of the performers who have played his instruments down the years has at least something to do with how they sound now, in a way making the legend of Stradivari self-fulfilling. What do you think?
And for a preview of the 1777 'Simpson' Guadagnini, here are some pretty bad pictures which I took! There will be better ones online and more information about the cello with the Cozio article, due up next month.