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This is an outstanding 18th century Italian viola by Paolo Castello. Castello attracts quite a varied response from connoisseurs and antiquarians, mainly on account of his idiosyncratic scrolls, but I’m a big fan. Every instrument of his that I’ve played has sounded good, and most are outstanding. This viola is a fine example of his work, very similar to the one featured in Alberto Giordano’s seminal article in the Strad. The condition is generally very good, and the overall appearance is excellent. There’s a button graft and some crack repairs to the table (including a soundpost patch), carried out to the highest standard and quite imperceptible. The original varnish is well preserved and unusually rich.
For a small viola the sound is very impressive. Perhaps the width of the model is the clue to its success, but whatever the secret, this viola has soul – the sound is bristling with energy, warm, lively and very dynamic. We are currently in a period where small violas are out of favour, but there are really no tonal arguments for bigger instruments – this one would hold its own in any professional context, and it has a smoothness and complexity of sound which are hard to find on an instrument of any size. I would recommend it particularly to a solo performer exhausted by decades of playing a big instrument.
Certificate : Peter Biddulph, London 2014
Length of back: 38.3cm
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