T WAS MY PLEASURE recently to tour Hollywood Piano Company, in Burbank, California, and to play four models of Baldwin piano on display there. Two of the models, introduced a few years ago, were very affordable uprights priced under $10,000; the other two, released more recently, were mid-level grands priced under $30,000. Having grown up practicing on a Baldwin upright — my first piano — and playing on a Baldwin grand in church while in high school, I was curious to see how the company’s products had evolved since my earliest years of playing.
Beginning with the largest and most expensive, I sampled a 6' 3" BP190 grand, which had a truly marvelous dynamic range across the entire keyboard. The key dip felt a bit shallow, as I recall it did on many Baldwin pianos past, yet I can’t remember ever sampling a Baldwin with so many tonal colors, or one so well suited to the full range of repertoire, from Bach and Chopin to Rachmaninoff and Joplin. I was very impressed by its ability to repeat notes fast and reliably, and by the clean cutoff of sound when keys were released. The pedal movement was a little shallow compared to that of a Steinway, for example, but easy to control. For volume control, the lid prop featured a mini-stick in addition to the standard half- and full-stick options — perfectly suited to accompanying singers and violinists who appreciate the richness and fullness of a grand but don’t like it overly loud. The BP190 had a wonderfully orchestral sonority, and was much less percussive than the Japanese pianos I’m accustomed to playing in schools. As it could easily be mistaken for a 7' grand, it would be a fine piano for a church or small concert hall, but would also be well suited for a high-class living room, studio, classroom, or choral room. The sample I played, situated in Hollywood’s performance space, was finished in high-gloss ebony, and was as beautiful to look at as it was to play. It would be an excellent choice for use in a full-length recital.
Baldwin’s 5' 10" BP178 grand was very close in quality to the BP190, and, like that model, is a great fit for pianists of all levels. It very much reminded me of the 5' 7" Steinway M in my home, and could easily be mistaken for a 6' or larger piano. The sample I played, finished in high-gloss ebony, had definite class and sophistication. The bass had an unexpected power, richness, and depth, making the Brahms Opp. 118 and 119 very satisfying to play. The upper register had a wonderful natural brightness without being too percussive; its clear, clean sound made it a wonderful choice for the Chopin A-minor Étude, Op.10 No.2. I found the action light, nimble, and easy to control, with excellent repetition. As such, it would be a fabulous pick for anyone who likes to practice Chopin études without difficulty or strain. I played the F-Major Étude, Op.10 No.8, and the piece had never felt easier to play. In addition to the Chopin, I especially enjoyed the sounds of Gershwin, Mozart, and Prokofiev on this instrument, and bringing out different voices was effortless when playing Bach. Of the four pianos I sampled that day, the BP178’s pedal had the greatest depth of travel, and changed the tonal color the most dramatically. The BP178 would be a great instrument for teaching, and reminds me of the best comparably sized Kawais I have played. I would highly recommend it in the mid-priced grand category.
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