Chinese-made Grands

Performance-Grade 'Value' Pianos

Dr. Owen Lovell and Adrean Farrugia

FOR THIS REVIEW, I asked two professional pianists, Dr. Owen Lovell and Adrean Farrugia, both active members of the Piano World online community, to play and write about the pianos I have labeled as "Group 3" instruments: performance-grade pianos that lie at the less costly end of the price spectrum (for more information on the "Group" rating system, see "The New Piano Market Today," elsewhere in this issue of Piano Buyer.) The task was divided up, and the specific instruments to review were chosen, largely on the basis of which brands and models were available in each reviewer's geographic area. Permission to audition the pianos was requested from the respective dealers, who were also given the opportunity to prepare the pianos to show their best.


Dr. Owen Lovell

The professional pianist or piano teacher shops for an instrument in ways that differ slightly from how a consumer goes about purchasing a piano for casual home use. For one thing, because our job is to continually improve our own and/or others' playing, it's our nature to be critical, and find faults in almost any instrument in any price range. Many of us have the pleasure of regularly concertizing, rehearsing, teaching, or practicing on grand pianos of considerable size. It's unfair but inevitable that we will make comparisons between more sensibly sized instruments for small spaces, and those built with fewer compromises and intended for a concert stage.

For another, when auditioning pianos at a store, pianists generally expect the instrument to be in tune and the action to be in an acceptable state of regulation. It's impossible to fairly evaluate the tone of an out-of-tune piano or the touch of an action with sticking keys, no matter how elegant the sales pitch or how glossy the brochure. I tend to be a little less of a shopper driven by price alone; good dealer prep, post-sale support, and a variety of quality instruments to try in-store simply cost a little more. Since we often live with our piano purchases for decades, pianists tend to eschew buying instruments sight unseen, and may return to a store multiple times before making a final decision.

The models reviewed from Group 3 represent a unique range of tonal concepts that you may find more interesting than those of well-respected makes from the Far East. The piano I practice on at home, a tall upright, is a member of this tier of instruments. As there are no piano dealers who currently stock Group 3 brands in my corner of rural Wisconsin, I traveled to the "big city" of Minneapolis, as well as to Rochester, Minnesota, where I was assisted by Ackerman's Piano Sales, Jim Laabs Music, and Petit Music. Audition material for this review consisted of solo music from all major stylistic periods: Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Contemporary, and a little jazz.


Models P-III, P-IV, P-V, and P-135

Petrof's 5'2" model P-V was surprisingly powerful for its size, with a perfectly even treble register that projected well. The tone was rich, full, and a bit reminiscent of some better U.S.-made Baldwin grands. The action was easy to control, well regulated, and among the better ones I've experienced on a small piano. Of course, any short grand will have tonal limitations, and this was evidenced in the model P-V by a lack of low-bass presence, and a mid-tenor section that had a slightly nasal quality. I particularly enjoyed this piano for late Romantic repertoire.

The larger, 5'7" model P-IV seemed well suited for a moderately sized living room; it had some of the tonal virtues of its larger siblings, but a more sensible dynamic range for home use. It also had a characteristic Petrof tonal trait: The treble section had a noticeable bell-like quality, clear and bright. As expected, the bass/tenor transition was handled more smoothly in this instrument than in the smaller P-V model, but could still be detected. Minor quibbles included a little tactile roughness at the corners of the keys, and an action that wasn't quite as finely regulated as in the other Petrof grands I tried. This piano was particularly at home with French Impressionist repertoire.


SPRING 2010 -- page 115

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