By David Fulton | From the March-April 2022 issue of Strings magazine
A large part of the Voller Brothers’ output consisted of replicas of specific instruments. So, how do the copies compare to the original? Strings asked violinist and collector David Fulton, who owns both the 1735 d’Egville Guarneri del Gesù and the 1898 Voller copy, to compare the two.
The Voller Brothers’ d’Egville copy is quite the best-sounding English violin I’ve ever heard or played. It certainly sounds better than a number of Vuillaumes and instruments of other nominally more distinguished makers I’ve encountered, even better than a number of old Cremonese instruments. My interest was, of course, in having a bench copy of the real d’Egville; especially one that so graphically illustrated how the varnish on the del Gesù had worn over the years.
In appearance, the varnish on the Voller copy is not quite the same shade as the d’Egville varnish. The d’Egville’s varnish is a glowing near-orange color while the Voller copy is more muted in its appearance. The varnish on the copy is thicker and has a more “chipped” appearance, as was doubtless the case on the real d’Egville a hundred years ago. This clearly demonstrates the effect that a hundred years of continuous usage can have on an instrument.
Although the d’Egville and the Voller Brothers’ copy look enough alike to be mistaken for one another, tonally the instruments are quite different. The real d’Egville’s tone is larger than life. It is huge, almost as if it has a built-in amplifier. It is very warm, woody, round, intense, and focused; one knowledgeable observer characterized it as “hot.” The tone is produced easily and the instrument reacts very quickly to the slightest change in vibrato or bow stroke. Responding well to vertical pressure, it is best played with the comparatively slower but intense bow stroke of a Stern or a Zukerman. The d’Egville is a perfect Ferrari of a violin whose natural milieu is the concert stage: it is overpowering in chamber music.
The tone of the Voller Brothers’ copy of the d’Egville is quite different. I’d characterize it as being more “oboe-like” (as is also the case with typical Strads). It is a cooler sound, glossy and elegant, but ultimately a simpler sound. It lacks the rich overtones, overwhelming power, and tonal breadth of the del Gesù. That said, the Voller Brothers’ violin could be successfully used as a concert instrument at any level. It is perfectly even from the bottom to the top of its register, it is responsive, and it has adequate power to fill any concert hall. Tone production is rather more sensitive to bow speed as compared with the d’Egville.
In short, the d’Egville sounds like one of the great del Gesù violins (it was actually Lord Menuhin’s favorite violin) while the Voller Brothers’ copy sounds like what it is: a very fine English instrument.
Of course, describing a violin’s tone verbally is like trying to say what a color tastes like.
Naturally, one would vastly prefer to have the real d’Egville rather than the Voller Brothers’ copy. On the other hand, there is a rather significant difference in the price. [Ed. note: Vollers can be had in the tens of thousands, while the best Guarneris change hands very quietly in the millions.]
If the Voller Brothers violin were my only violin, it would certainly not be any constraint on my violinistic career. (That statement should be understood as accompanied by a broad grin.)