A Parenthesis of Violoncellists

The violoncelli recital at Bagni di Lucca’s Teatro Accademico last Thursday was a great way to start September off for Sebastian Comberti and Raphael Wallfisch’s partnership is wittily magnetic. Now for the first time they were able to display their supreme talents in Bagni di Lucca Villa and not in an attractive, but slightly remote village in the adjoining valley.

The violoncello is, of course, another Italian invention from that country which has produced some of the world’s outstanding stringed instruments. Developed from the violone (the English equivalent would be the bass viol) its rapid entry into the world of instrumental music was helped (as explained by Sebastian) by the Bolognese invention of wire strung cat-gut strings which enabled the instrument to be enhanced with thicker strings and sustain a louder, more consistent and mellower sound. Today, apart from the baroque cello, the majority of cello strings are made with a steel core.

The two cellists played with a supporting spike at the end of their cello (not usual on baroque celli) but Wallfisch’s was considerably longer so that his arm and hand position was somewhat different from Comberti’s. I think this may emphasise the fact that the cello is really a part of the family of those ‘da braccio’ (arm-held) string instruments which include the violin and the viola.

Technicalities apart, it’s the sound that counts and in the intimate acoustics of the Teatro it was ravishing. The evening was introduced by deputy mayor, cultural ‘assessore’ (and our family doctor) Vito Valentino and consisted of a variety of pieces with the main emphasis on that great rococò Lucchese Luigi Boccherini. The choice of this composer was particularly appropriate since Wallfisch plays a Gagliano instrument dating from 1760 and, therefore, of the same era in which Boccherini, himself a distinguished cellist, lived.

During the evening the violoncelli propagated themselves to three and even reached four with the addition of two further members and students of the summer course for budding world cellists held by Comberti and Wallfisch at Tereglio.

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I particularly enjoyed the foursome playing a diabolical study by Piatti which, predictably led to this piece being replayed as an encore.

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To hear the incredibly high quality and realise the international provenance of the students attending the summer courses at Tereglio don’t miss out today’s (Sunday) concert in Tereglio’s parish church at 17.30 (5.30 pm for followers of Captain Mainwaring…). You will certainly not be disappointed and for encouragement there’s a very nice selection of locally backed cakes at the traditional ‘rinfresco’…


(Boccherini playing on outside Lucca’s Conservatorio, named after him, but using bronze strings.)



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