Meeting two Andrea Guarneri violas….

Posted on June 8th, 2012 by

Holding William Primose’s Andrea Guarneri Viola. 12th June 2012

On the 8th June, a wonderful morning in the company of two great violas by Andrea Guarneri. The brief visit of the ‘ex- Primose’ 1697  Andrea Guarneri viola to the workshop at the RAM, meant that it could meet up with its brother from the workbench, the Academy’s own Andrea Guarneri.

Luthier and Instrument Custodian David Rattray leads the discussion

Luthier Jonathan Woolston with the two violas-the ‘ex-Primose’ on the left.


Having grown up with the sound of Primose’s later chamber recordings with Jascha Heifetz in my ears, this was an emotive moment. Primose played on this instrument from 1951. The moment that one puts bow to string that  sound emerges. Neil Heyde, from the Kreutzers, was also hanging out, and was similarly entranced. The instrument is equally refined and powerful  all across the range, has a startlingly fast response time, and is seemingly blessed with an unlimited range of colour. The most wonderful viola that I have ever played, without doubt.

Primose recording with Heifetz and Piatigorsky, 1956

Fascinating insights started to flow from the comparison and close examination of the two instruments in close comparison. Both have slightly knotted backs cut on the quarter slab-whilst the RAM instrument has more of the orginal varnish. The ex-Primose has it’s astounding original scroll, and David observed the beauty of the final knife cut at the tightest point of the  spiral, and the depth of the ribs, often lessened in later interventions/’improvements’. Both instruments share similar features in the ‘f-holes’-matched downward curves and refined cutting on the upper wings, and dramatically incised original notches. David reminded me that Bruce Carlsson has pointed out how much care Andrea Guarneri would take with the delicately scooped curves around the F-holes.