Few piano makers generate more buzz among pianists and piano enthusiasts than the Italian company Fazioli. In a profession dominated by established composers, teachers, performers, styles, and instrument makers, many now consider Fazioli to be firmly established as a premium piano maker, in the same echelon as Steinway and Bösendorfer — a remarkable achievement, given that Fazioli was founded only as recently as 1978.
Founder Paolo Fazioli, who had studied music and engineering as a youth, aspired to be a concert pianist. Instead, he found himself rising in the managerial ranks of the family business: a top Italian supplier of high-end office furniture. But the combination of his creative ambitions and his search for the perfect piano led Fazioli, with the help of experts, to design and build his own piano. In a very short time, his instruments were internationally recognized as being among the best in the world.
The Juilliard School, my alma mater, is famously known as an all-Steinway institution. Imagine the discussion, excitement, and even the hint of scandal when the faculty guided the school to purchase a Fazioli for Paul Hall, the main venue for student performances. Piano students rallied behind the two rival brands, with one of my teachers seemingly leading the charge for the Fazioli. I, too, had to choose. For my Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) recital, a program of sonatas and fantasies by Mozart, Schumann, and Vine, would I play a New York Steinway or a Fazioli?
Think of it — a pianist actually having a say in choosing his instrument! Pianists are almost unique among instrumentalists in that we give nearly every performance on a piano not of our choosing. Sometimes we’re blessed with a beautiful instrument that has been carefully nurtured by a knowledgeable technician. Other times, the instrument seems to work against us. Whatever the case may be, there is nothing the pianist can do about it; one must do the best one can with what has been given.
For this review, I spent roughly three hours at Collora Piano (collorapiano.com), a piano store near downtown Dallas that specializes in various European pianos, among others. Their Fazioli model F212 (7′) had arrived only two weeks earlier, while the F228 (7′ 6″) had been performed on in their small concert hall for about a year and a half. I and several of my students had performed and recorded on it on multiple occasions before this session.
Fazioli’s philosophy as an instrument maker could hardly be more different from Steinway’s, and, given the widespread presence of Steinway pianos on the concert scene, in academia, and elsewhere, comparisons between the two are inevitable. However, I approached the instruments exclusively as a performer, with only the most limited knowledge of how they’re built. (Someone seeking more technical information should ask an experienced technician or a Fazioli dealer, or see the company’s profile in Piano Buyer.) The purpose of this review is to compare the Fazioli F212 and F228 to each other, and provide some comparisons with the New York Steinway model B (6′ 10½”).
The two Fazioli models had a lot in common — not surprising, as they’re of the same brand, similar in size, and were both relatively new. Both had a beautiful consistency in touch and tone from top to bottom. The action was perfectly regulated at every point, as in a slightly heavy Yamaha (a compliment — everyone loves a Yamaha action); perhaps this was my favorite quality. Both the attack of the sound and its cutoff via the release of the damper were perfectly consistent from key to key. Executing ornaments in Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C-sharp Major (from Book I of the Well-Tempered Clavier) was pure joy. Similarly, the repetitions in Ravel’s Alborada del gracioso were very clear and consistent — not a minor point, given that these repetitions are some of the most technically demanding in the classical repertoire. I often find that a consistent action is my number-one criterion in a piano, because the action is the foundation for how I manipulate tone: by understanding the key depth and key weight, the escapement point, and the release of key and damper. I find that a Steinway action can be equally responsive, but sometimes an attentive technician is required to bring out its best.
Also incredibly consistent, both between the Fazioli models and within each one, was the tone throughout the low, middle, and high registers. One of my few frustrations with Steinway is the occasional dead zone in the middle-high register, which is exactly where the melody tends to be. That said, because I play more Steinways than Faziolis, I needed an adjustment period in my time with the Faziolis. For example, I immediately had to reduce my arm weight in the melody register. Whereas a Steinway may sometimes need a degree of arm weight for the melody to sing and project, the Fazioli seemed to project itself. When I leaned into either Fazioli model’s upper register as I would on my 2005 Steinway O at home, I received a rather unpleasant noise that was far too loud for the space or the music. But after giving myself 30 minutes to recalibrate my technique, I found that both Faziolis responded beautifully. The registers mixed with each other admirably, but I had to play with a lighter touch and more internal release in order to allow everything to be heard.
I ran through passages from Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.23 in A Major, K.488, and found the Faziolis to be ideal companions for Mozart’s singing lyricism; the instruments were similarly well suited for executing Mozart’s glistening passagework. Again, it took me some time to adjust my approach before finding a true pianissimo for Liszt’s Les Jeux d’Eau à la Villa d’Este, but once pianist adjusted to instrument, the latter provided all the delicacy and translucence one could ask for. In sum, if I played the Fazioli like a Steinway, the sound was not ideal — and the reverse is almost certainly also true. A friend of mine compared playing a Fazioli to driving a Ferrari: the potency is tremendous, but it takes skill to achieve control. Given the Fazioli’s incredible singing power and natural ability to project, I sometimes wonder if more skill might be required for a physically strong pianist to achieve a sweet ringing sound than for a smaller pianist.
Indeed, the Faziolis’ consistency of clarity, sustain, and brilliance was addicting. But for me, there was a downside: I felt that the bass had an almost bright tinge, similar in sound to the middle or treble registers, such that it lacked a degree of depth, orchestral power, and even warmth found in many New York Steinways. Perhaps this was a tradeoff necessary to achieving its incredible upper registers, but in any case, it was particularly true of the F212. As I ran through passages of Liszt’s Sonata in B Minor, the octaves of his Funérailles, and Stravinsky’s Pétrouchka, I sometimes wished for a warmer or more resonant bass from the F212. Comparing the F212 and F228, there could be no denying that the F228 had more range and resonance in its bass; after all, in the world of pianos, bigger often means better bass. But while the sound of the Faziolis was always beautiful, it was not always warm. Sometimes the tone felt too perfect — but then, I was born and raised on a different sound. Metaphorically speaking, I prefer the somewhat more complex and romantic interpretations of Cliburn to the insightful clarity of Pollini; I always have and I always will.
In closing, I don’t think there is an ideal piano any more than there is an ideal pianist. What is clear is that Fazioli pianos are impeccably made, with tremendous precision, consistency, and beauty. Given these qualities, it’s not surprising that so many performers and teachers have found their voices through these remarkable instruments.
Fazioli Models Reviewed
Prices for models in polished ebony (US$)
|Model||Size||MSRP (US$)*||SMP (US$)**|
*Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price
** Suggested Maximum Price. Most sales take place at a modest discount to this price. See Introduction to Model & Pricing Guide for more information. Models and prices subject to change; see Piano Buyer for updated information.
Alex McDonald holds a doctorate from the Juilliard School, and is festival director for Basically Beethoven, a thriving summer series of concerts in downtown Dallas that is now in its 37th season. He was Silver Medalist at the 2007 New Orleans International Piano Competition, and also competed in the 2013 Van Cliburn Competition. Dr. McDonald has soloed with the Mexican State Symphony Orchestra, the Louisiana Philharmonic, the Fort Worth Symphony, and the Utah Symphony; has been featured on PBS, NPR, WRR (Dallas), and WQXR (New York); and has performed throughout North America, as well as in South Korea, Japan, and Israel. He can be reached at mcdonaldpian[email protected] or through alexmcdonaldpiano.com.