Like a Hill bow, an early Collin-Mézin is an utterly reliable commodity. Everybody likes them – professional players, amateurs, students, teachers, and violin shop owners. This example is one of the nicest I’ve seen, with a beautifully warm and rich tone that would cofound anyone’s prejudices about “the French sound”.
Collin-Mézin is one of these names that everyone knows. The various members of the family produced a huge range of instruments over a period of almost a century. However, the name owes its popularity almost entirely to the earlier work by Charles JB Collin-Mézin (1841-1923). He was a violin maker of great talent – his instruments are characteristically Parisian, yet with a highly individual aesthetic incorporating a supple oil varnish, soft edges, and a certain nobility that’s lacking in the more brittle creations of Gand & Bernardel etc.
His earlier violins tend to be very successful tonally, and I would attribute this in part to the use of quite broad even-grained spruce for the tops.
This early violin from 1884 is as good as a Collin-Mézin can be – beautiful buttery varnish, fantastic wood, very broad edges. Like all the earlier instruments, it looks rather solid from the outside yet it’s very light in the hand.
This violin is a genuine “attic find” (though actually found under the stairs). It has lain undisturbed in its case for the last 35 years, and its owner has established that the last person to play it must have been her great-grandmother. The condition is outstanding apart from a small repair to the neck root – the button is undisturbed. There are no other cracks or damages and the varnish is in an unusually good state of preservation.
There’s no denying that Collin-Mézins went badly downhill in the 20th century as they industrialised their working practices, and even in the 1890s the quality starts to become inconsistent, but these earlier pre-1890 instruments are a dream. By this time in his career Collin-Mézin had already received endorsements from some of the greatest players of the period, including Sivori and Joachim. Amongst his contemporaries his instruments are unusually fine sounding – the only obvious point of comparison would be CA Miremont, and it’s surely no coincidence that the two worked together under Collin-Mézin’s father Claude-Nicolas Collin.
I’ve never been much of a believer in the idea that you have to “play in” a violin, and this instrument proves the point – after 70 or 80 years of idleness, from the first stroke of the bow it was immediately responsive and full of sound (Ok I admit we put some new strings on, repositioned the post and fitted a bridge). In fact it’s a terrific sounding violin, quite sugary but with a strong core. The balance is unusually good – all parts of the register produce a consistent volume, and the voice is coherent throughout, always broad and rich without sacrificing attack. Excellent volume, really easy to play, and a very expressive character – ideal for romantic repertoire, but also a great all-rounder..
Dimensions: length of back 35.7cm, stop 130/195mm
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