<< -- 4 -- Tess Crebbin THE MIGHTY VENETIAN
TC: Nowadays, many cellists seem to prefer Montagnana to Stradivari.
CB: It depends what comes your way and what suits your playing, so one cannot generalize. I think Jacqueline du Pré would have been ideally suited to a Montagnana. She played a Stradivari, of course, but if a great Montagnana would have come along at the time that would have been a perfect fit. She was a very strong player and faced criticism for forcing the tone. She could have forced the tone on a Montagnana without any repercussions whereas doing the same thing on a Stradivari, the instrument tends to sort of close down on you.
TC: How do the cellos compare for audience perception?
CB: The interesting thing is that, sitting in the audience, the Montagnanas do not sound louder than the Stradivaris. It is all about what you are feeling around you when you play.
TC: Montagnana seems to get more substance in the lower registers. Why?
CB: Well, some of the Stradivari cellos also get the most amazing lower register. But it is different. I suppose you could call the sound that comes out drier. But it is still a very big sound.
TC: While there are many Strad copies and fakes around, and everyone seems to have a 'Strad' in their attic, there seem to be a lot less fake Montagnanas or even old copies of the same. Why? Is he more difficult to copy?
CB: You tend to get old instruments that get 'upgraded' into Montagnana. You know, a few alterations here or there. Big cellos that were cut down, for instance, tend to get Montagnana labels. But generally, it is not as common. In 1872, when they had the big exhibition at what's now the Victoria and Albert Museum, there was a Montagnana cello there. But it was called an Andrea Guarneri because Montagnana wasn't really known then. Now, of course, he is. So that is one factor that accounts for there being less old fakes or copies around. There are a lot of modern makers now who make copies, as you know. But they are not serious fakes that would fool anybody.
Comparing the backs of two instruments - the genuine Montagnana on the left. Photo © 2006 Philip Crebbin
TC: How easy is it for a cellist nowadays to buy a genuine Montagnana cello?
CB: Nothing is easy when it comes to good instruments nowadays, unless you have got money. And in Montagnana's case, you are going to need a lot of it. But if you have enough money, it's not a problem. I can offer you about three right now. One of them is a real bargain. It has one area of significant damage in terms of its value, which is on the back. And that is for sale for 1.3 million euros. But the great ones would fetch at least twice that.
TC: So, if you are looking at the value of instruments, and we are talking about the top price range, it's Stradivari followed by Montagnana, is that correct?
CB: If you are talking about cellos, that is probably correct, yes.
Copyright © 7 March 2006
Tess Crebbin, Germany