A Unique Vuillaume Cello with a Noble Pedigree

Raphael Wallfisch’s cello brings enhanced dimensions to his playing

Player: From contemporary composers on back to Baroque, British cellist Raphael Wallfisch has recorded nearly every major work for cello. He is also a passionate teacher who has taught cello at the Konservatorium Winterthur in Zürich, Switzerland, and at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, England. His latest releases are Panufnik: Symphonic Works, Vol. 8 (CPO0) and Schumann’s Cello Concerto & Works for Cello & Piano (Nimbus).

Instrument: 1865 “ex-Sheremetev” Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume cello, strung with Larsen Magnacore strings, which Wallfisch says are, “the best quality cello strings, in my opinion—outstanding for quality, power, and regularity.”

Condition: “The cello is of magnificently grand proportions, possibly inspired by one of the Stradivari cellos of the broader pattern. It has a dark golden-brown varnish that wasn’t antiqued the way many Vuillaume cellos were, and an ornate coat of arms of the Sheremetev family emblazoned on the upper back.”

Bows: A contemporary bow by Canadian maker Roy G. Quade, a Dodd, and a Panormo [Editor’s note: Many of Panormo’s bows are believed to have been made by the Tubbs family.]



Is this your primary instrument?
Apart from the Vuillaume, I have two other primary instruments, a 2013 Patrick Robin and a 1760 Gennaro Gagliano.

How does it compare to your previous cellos?
Previously, I have played on a succession of fine modern instruments, including examples by Colin Irving, Wolfgang Schnabl, Andreas Hudelmayer, as well as a [Charles] Adolph Gand and an 18th-century Venetian cello.

What gift does this cello bring to your playing that cannot be found in any other instrument?
I greatly enjoy the power and depth of this Vuillaume. It has a unique character and is not like the others, but this doesn’t mean that it is better!

How does it inspire you as a performer?
This cello has great physical and tonal presence, and it’s always special to play an instrument that enhances those dimensions in your playing.

What is its history?
This cello was made in 1865 as part of a quartet of instruments commissioned for Count Sheremetev of St. Petersburg, Russia. It survived the drama of the Russian Revolution, unlike many of the possessions of the Russian aristocrats. It was spirited out of Russia to the United States, and the quartet was owned by collectors until it was eventually divided, and the instruments became owned individually by collectors.

How did you come into possession of it?
The cello was owned by a family in California until I was able to buy it from Sotheby’s London in 2012.

What drew you to it?
Its handsome and distinctive appearance was an immediate draw, and I love the ease with which you can produce a terrific and dense sound!

When and how did you truly learn who your cello is, the soul of the instrument?
I continue to realize its potential as I play it more often.