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Authors: Paul Adam

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BOOK: Paganini's Ghost
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Finally, my curiosity and vanity satisfied, I left the Cannon on my bench and went into the house to find Yevgeny. He was alone in the back room, standing by the piano, leafing through one of my many piles of chamber music.

“You have much music,” he said.

“Chamber music is a passion of mine,” I said. “Particularly string quartets.”

“You play in a quartet?”

“Yes . . . well, I
did
. I used to play every week with three friends.”

“But no more?”

“One of them died,” I said.

It was more than a year since Tomaso Rainaldi had been killed, but the memory still brought a lump to my throat.

“You like quartets?” I went on.

“I play very few,” Yevgeny said, a wistful note in his voice. “I wish I had more chance. My first year at the conservatoire, I get together with other students sometimes. But my mother, she does not like. She want me to concentrate on my solo career.”

“It is one of life's great pleasures,” I said. “Making music with other people.”

Yevgeny nodded.

“Perhaps in few years I find time to try. At the moment, it is impossible.”

“Ah, you're here. You have finished?”

I turned my head and saw Ludmilla entering the room, a cup of coffee in her hand.

“The violin is ready,” I said.

“Then what are we waiting for? Yevgeny must try it.”

Ludmilla deposited her cup on top of the piano and strode purposefully out through the French windows on to the terrace, where the insurance company men were still standing guard. Enrico Golinelli joined us in the workshop and I handed Yevgeny the Cannon. He played some scales, then the Bach sarabande again. I listened very carefully, but I could detect no flaws in the sound. Nor could Yevgeny.

“Very good,” he said, putting the violin down. “She sound better than ever.”

“You are satisfied?” Ludmilla said to her son.

“Yes, I am very happy.”

“Then we must get back to the cathedral. Your recital is”—Ludmilla checked the gold watch on her wrist—“less than ninety minutes away. Signor Golinelli, we have no time to lose.”

The assistant curator sprang into action. The insurance company men were summoned into the workshop; then the driver of the armoured van was called round from his vehicle, the four police officers tagging along behind.
Il Cannone
was put back in its case and we retraced our steps, trooping round to the front of the house in a straggling line.

As the violin was being loaded into the van, Yevgeny held out his hand to me.

“Thank you, Dottor Castiglione.”

“It's Gianni,” I said.

“Thank you, Gianni. For saving my recital”—he lowered his voice to a whisper—“and for saving me.”

“It was nothing.”

“Please let me give you a ticket to the concert.”

“I have one already,” I said. “I'm looking forward to it immensely.”

“Then come to the reception after—in the town hall.”

“I will be with friends.”

“Bring them, too. Please, you must.”

“Yevgeny!”

Ludmilla was waiting impatiently by the gate.

“Our driver is waiting. We must go.
Now.”

Yevgeny gave me an apologetic glance.

“Until later,” he said, and hurried away to join his mother.

Golinelli came to thank me.

“Send your bill to me in Genoa,” he said.

“There is no charge,” I replied. “It was an honour just to touch the Cannon.”

Golinelli shook my hand, then trotted out to the Fiat on the road. The police cars and the Ivanovs' Mercedes had turned round and were waiting in a line. The armoured van and the insurance company car reversed out of my drive and took up their positions behind the leading police car. Then the convoy moved off. I watched from my front step as the vehicles sped away along the road towards Cremona, getting smaller and smaller, until they vanished over the horizon.

Three

T
he cathedral in Cremona is one of the undiscovered treasures of Italy. It is smaller and less spectacular than the more famous basilicas in Florence or Rome or Venice, but those great churches seem to me to have lost their true purpose, to have lost touch with the common man. There is something overwhelming and intimidating about their size and grandeur. They are places of worship still, but they are not conducive to spirituality on an individual level. Perhaps they never have been. St. Peter's and St. Mark's and Santa Maria del Fiore were built to celebrate the glory of God, but I wonder sometimes whether the glory of man were not the greater imperative in their makers' minds. As architectural wonders, they inspire and impress, but as places for the personal expression of religious faith, they have become hollow shells. They are shrines to little more than the patron saint of tourism, mere points on a holidaymaker's itinerary to be visited and ticked off.

I see faith, of any persuasion, as a private matter, to be followed
quietly and without ostentation. The trappings of religion—the churches, the priests, the ceremony—are not a necessary part of that faith. They have their place, and they can be a comfort to many, but faith is not an occasional luxury, to be indulged only on a Sabbath in a consecrated house. It is an integral part of your daily life, a guiding hand that defines your actions and thoughts whether you are conscious of it or not.

Cremona Cathedral is a magnificent building, but it is on a scale more suited to a religion that was founded on simplicity and self-sacrifice. It has its share of tourists, yet they do not detract from the cathedral's purpose. It is still a place where any individual, whether he believes or not, may come to reflect on his life. There is a soothing tranquillity to the high vaulted interior that encourages and supports contemplation, and also, at the right time, celebration—the celebration of life and death, of marriage and birth, and, tonight, of music, that wonderful, uplifting gift that in my own small way I have spent my life helping others to share and enjoy.

The nave was packed with people, every seat occupied. This was a recital that no one wanted to miss. Cremona is many things to many people, but to its residents, and to the world at large, it is, above all else, a city of violins. All the great luthiers lived and worked here. Stradivari, Guarneri, Amati are so fundamental to the city's history, and its sense of identity, that it is impossible to exaggerate their importance, or their unique standing in a world that is so obsessed with wealth and status. These were not noble men. They were not rich or powerful. They were simple craftsmen, woodworkers, but their names are known and venerated round the globe.

It was no surprise, then, that the citizens of Cremona should turn out in force to hear the most famous instrument made by one of its most famous sons.
Il Cannone
left the city more than two centuries ago. It has been appropriated by Genoa, a gift from that city's own most famous son, and is normally heard only there. The Premio Paganini prizewinner's recital on the violin is always held in Genoa. Yevgeny
Ivanov had already done one recital there, but this year—in a break from tradition—he had been allowed to perform a second recital in Cremona. No wonder I could detect such a sizzling atmosphere of expectation and excitement in the cathedral.
Il Cannone
was coming home, and everyone wanted to be present to welcome it, to hear it sing.

I was in a seat in the centre of the nave, some distance from the front. The first few rows had been reserved for various civic dignitaries and their guests—the reverence we show our dead luthiers does not, alas, extend to their living successors. I saw the mayor and other local politicians and the usual rent-a-celebrity mob that seems to show up at significant cultural events like this. I recognised a couple of well-known actors, several television personalities, and an A.C. Milan footballer whose on-the-pitch belligerence and inarticulate postmatch interviews had hitherto not led me to suppose he had an interest in violin music.

I also saw someone else I knew—the plump, well-fed figure of Vincenzo Serafin, the Milanese violin dealer with whom I have a longstanding, if not always harmonious, business relationship. He was sitting in the second row with his mistress, Maddalena, beside him. Trust him to get one of the best seats in the house. He turned his head, stroking his silky black beard with smug satisfaction, and surveyed the audience behind him, the rows of plebs and nobodies who lacked his infallible talent for networking.

“How did he wangle that?” my friend Antonio Guastafeste said in my right ear, his eyes following my gaze. “A creep like him.”

“Serafin has friends in low places,” I replied.

“Very low, if the person sitting next to him is anything to go by,” Margherita said.

I turned my head, looking at the elegant figure to my left, silver earrings glinting beneath her short dark hair. Margherita was also a friend, a close friend—my girlfriend, I suppose some people might have said, if that weren't such a ridiculous term for someone of her years. Margherita was almost sixty, but you wouldn't have known it.
The crisp cream jacket and black trousers she was wearing had an ageless simplicity. Only the traces of grey in her hair, the faint lines round her eyes and mouth gave any hint of her real age.

“The woman, you mean? Maddalena?” I said.

“No, the other side. Vittorio Castellani.”

“Oh, yes, I see him. You know the professor?”


Professor?
” Margherita said caustically. “You flatter him. I'm surprised the university hasn't taken away his title, he's there so infrequently.”

“Do I detect a trace of academic jealousy?” I said, smiling at her.

“You do indeed. Some of us at the university are very old-fashioned. We believe in actually showing up every once in a while and teaching students. I doubt Castellani knows what a student looks like. Well, apart from the pretty female ones he tries to bed.”

“Maybe not just
academic
jealousy,” I said.

“Oh,
please
. Have you seen him? That ridiculous bouffant hair, the manicured nails, those leather jackets he wears. He's nearly fifty, for goodness sake.”

“He looks familiar,” Guastafeste said.

“You've probably seen him on television,” I said. “RAI's resident intellectual. Politics, current affairs, culture, even sport—he seems to be able to talk about them all.”

“Talking about a subject and actually knowing something about it are two very different things,” Margherita said. “Not that a television producer would recognise the distinction.”

I laughed. Margherita took my hand and gave it an affectionate squeeze.

“But we won't let an arrogant loudmouth like Vittorio Castellani spoil our evening out, will we?” she said. “Even if he does have a better seat than we do.”

“He won't hear any better,” I said. “Probably worse, in fact. The sound will travel over his head and be at its best . . . oh . . . about here, I'd say. Right above us. That's why I chose these seats. I've been to concerts here before.”

“You must let us pay you for the tickets, Gianni,” Margherita said.

“I wouldn't hear of it.”

“No, I insist.”

“So do I. I'm delighted you both could come. Listening to music with friends, that is my idea of a perfect night out.”

“It could be a disaster, you know,” Guastafeste said. “That new bridge you fitted. What if it collapses halfway through?”

I'd told them about my experiences of the afternoon, though I hadn't revealed Yevgeny Ivanov's secret. Guastafeste is a detective with the Cremona police. I would trust him with my life, but not a juicy titbit of gossip.

“Don't worry, Gianni,” Margherita said. “If anything goes wrong, you can put my jacket over your head and sneak out the side exit. And I'm sure Antonio can fix up a police escort to stop the mob from lynching you.”

“Nothing is going to go wrong,” I said. “You wait till you hear Ivanov. He is sensational.”

The soloist appeared moments later. He walked quickly out from one of the transepts, almost scuttling across to the front of the nave, as if he didn't want to be noticed. He had his head down, his eyes fixed on the floor, the Cannon clutched in his left hand. Most of the cathedral was in shadow—it is simply too vast a space to illuminate effectively—but that only added to the spine-tingling atmosphere of the occasion. There was a single spotlight focused on the area below the altar steps, where Yevgeny Ivanov was standing. Reflected light glinted off the gilt surround of the organ loft to his right, penetrating back into the apse to play round the edges of Boccaccino's sixteenth-century fresco of Christ flanked by four saints, including Omobono, the patron saint of Cremona. Nearly all the other frescoes that decorate the interior of the cathedral were hidden in darkness, the only exceptions being the ones by the entrance, where rows of votive candles cast a dim, flickering light over the walls.

Yevgeny gave a perfunctory bow to acknowledge the audience's applause; then he lifted the violin to his chin and the transformation
I'd seen earlier in my workshop took place again. Ivanov the introverted man became Ivanov the extrovert performer. The shyness fell away like a cloak dropping to the ground, and a new, more assured person stepped out into the limelight.

He began with the Bach B-minor unaccompanied partita, and I felt the audience sit back, as if they had been physically buffeted by the wave of sound that rolled down the nave. I heard sharp intakes of breath all round me, little gasps like explosions. Even I, who had heard the Cannon only an hour or two before, was stunned by the intensity of the sound. The acoustics in the cathedral are superb, but I had never heard anything like this. It was awe-inspiring—a barrage that knocked you out with its power, then resuscitated you with its passion and ardour.

BOOK: Paganini's Ghost
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