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Sunday, July 14, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Fulton's first string of fine instruments

If the La Pucelle Stradivarius is one of the gems of Fulton's collection, she has plenty of company. Here are a few of the highlights of a collection that includes 15 violins, a quartet of violas (Guarneri, Amati, Gaspar da Salo and Guadagnini) and three cellos (Montagnana, Pietro Guarneri of Venice and Stradivari).

The Isaac Stern Guarnerius del Gesu: This instrument was earlier known as the "Panette," after its 19th-century owner, the Vicomte de Panette, who bought the instrument for his daughter Belatre from the famous violinmaker/dealer Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume. (Fulton has the bill of sale.) Stern bought the instrument in the late 1940s in Chicago, and it's the instrument he played for 48 years, occasionally alternating with another famous del Gesu, the Ysaye (formerly owned by the famed Belgian violinist/composer Eugene Ysaye). Most of Stern's concerto recordings were made on the "Panette" because he considered it easier to play.

The Bass of Spain: One of the finest surviving Stradivarius cellos (historically, the term "bass" was often applied to the cello), this instrument also has one of the most colorful histories of all. In the mid-1800s, traveling dealer Luigi Tarisio found the belly (or top) of this instrument roasting in the shop window of one Juan Ortega, who had taken it off the Strad and replaced it with a top of his own creation. Tarisio instantly recognized the provenance of that piece of wood in the shop window and bought it. The cello was in the hands of its owner, a Spanish lady whom Tarisio persuaded to sell it. The instrument and its top were finally reunited after the ship transporting them almost went down in a prodigious storm in the Bay of Biscay. Rejoined, the instrument later was in the possession of the scion of the Singer sewing-machine company. It is one of a handful of the better "Forma B" examples (less than two dozen survive) from among perhaps 60 extant Strad cellos.

The D'Egville del Gesu: Created in 1735, this instrument was purchased in 1900 by Prince Wilhelm of Prussia, and it stayed in the German royal family until 1960. It was then bought by Otto Lutz, a scientist instrumental in building the V-2 rockets. Lutz lent the D'Egville to the late violinist Yehudi Menuhin, who loved the instrument so much he wouldn't return it. Lutz had to sue him to get it back. The jealous owner, retrieving his instrument, had a gold nail engraved with his initials (O.L.) driven into the center of the instrument's saddle. Fulton has left the nail intact because of structural issues regarding its removal and replacement and because the nail now is a part of the instrument's history. Menuhin continued to covet the D'Egville to the end of his life but was never able to acquire it at terms that he would pay. Ironically, both the D'Egville and the Lord Wilton del Gesu, Menuhin's own del Gesu, are reunited in Fulton's collection. Menuhin would be so jealous.

— Melinda Bargreen

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