This is an interesting and historic viola by the Austro-Hungarian maker Carl Zach. Given by Zach to the great Czech violist František Ondříček, it has a clear line of provenance. It’s a fine solistic instrument in an excellent state of preservation.

Carl Zach, son of Thomas Zach, is an important figure in the Austro-Hungarian tradition – he produced a large number of finely made instruments and trained many of the next generation of makers. His business model and his style of production seem to have been much influenced by Vuillaume, and this instrument has a very strong French flavour to it. We see this in the varnish treatment, the inking to the scroll, and the precision of the work.

This viola was something of a showpiece, and was presented to František Ondříček in 1896 at a matinée organized by Zach, along with a violin given to fellow-performer D. Popper. The viola then ended up in the hands of Ondříček’s biographer Bohuslav Šich, from whom it was bought by the most recent owner’s father-in-law.

The viola is in excellent condition and the varnish is beautifully preserved. The only issue of note is a button repair.

This is a bright and zingy viola with a fine cantabile tone – It has the disposition of a racehorse, and it would be an ideal choice for a budding virtuoso.It’s nimble and articulate but it has an unusually smooth and elegant legato, particularly in the upper register.

The tone is unique, at once creamy and fizzy, oozing with character.

Possibly something of a “marmite viola”, people will either love it or hate it. I love it, I find it quite addictive to play – it’s loud, it’s responsive and it’s capable of great beauty.

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