After trying lots of pianos – and that i mean A LOT of pianos – with the goal of replacing my ancient Chickering baby grand – the people I liked best were 4 Steinway Bs at Steinway Hall inside london and a Steingraeber Phoenix 205 at Hurstwood Farm Pianos.
Auditioning instruments on this quality raises a fundamental essential question which can be how would you decide on just one?
My answer I assumed was you don’t decide. Just select the best one. Or “you don’t opt for the piano. The piano picks you.”
Nice try. But this didn’t get me any even closer to a choice until …
The Steinway Bs – Hamburg Steinway Bs that is because I’m in Europe rather than America – responded to everything I played. When i state “everything” I’m imagining Gary Oldman intensity when he shouts for everyone! Those Bs spoke!
Gorgeously exquisitely tuned, they produced a million colors and timbres, which leapt effortlessly gracefully into the room. Playing a simple interval on those pianos – a great fifth – had been a revelation. They spoke with a whisper and each and every other dynamic. They sounded large, full, and finish with only a melody and absolutely nothing else.
The steingraeber – which, however, was ultimately the “one” – was actually a totally different beast. I liked it when I first sat right down to play it. It had been precise in many ways I’ve never encounter before. It features a dynamic cover anything from almost inaudible ppppp to decimating ffff. In between and amongst those extremes comes floating sound, literally, from instrument to aether and air. Beautiful round warm graceful wonderful sound.
But as much as I liked the Steingraeber, I couldn’t coax it to look through the feel of my technique to the dialect of sound I was after. It was actually as if the piano had it’s own mind, as though it knew better. Maybe it did.
Then the magic. Geoffrey Sapsford, the amazing technician at Hurstwood Farm Pianos made some adjustments over an hour or so or so.
I sat down again and played a couple of notes. That same Steingraeber Phoenix 205 which had been an absolutely wonderfully precise instrument that I couldn’t pull sound as completely as I wished now responded everything I played: exactly, precisely, totally. Full stay with lid fully open, half stay with lid halfway closed, tiny one-eighth stay with lid open a little bit, no stick with lid fully closed.
I do not know what Geoff did to the piano and it’s very possible he relied on incantations only. As for selecting a piano and how to decide between this, that a person, or something that is else: My experience came to play, try, think, listen, talk, permit settling – then repeat as much as necessary. And collaborate by having an amazing technician.