...powerful, warm and united throughout the registers beyond any piano this size...
Thirteen years ago, I stumbled across one that impressed me the same as you described above.
I'd just retired from a very busy job and had an upright at home about 20 years old but played so little the hammers weren't even grooved. The first couple of years after I bought it, it served its purpose--I got comfortable enough reading music and could reliably find the right keys without looking at my hands. I'd never gotten that comfortable in the hours I spent in university practice rooms some years earlier, but those hours had created strong bias in my mind about two brands that dominated the rooms--S&S and Chickering. The Steinways were all new and well-maintained. I loved them. The Chickerings were all quite old, purchased when the music school was first established at the turn of the 20th century. I hated it when all the S&S rooms were booked and usually just went home if a Chickering was all that was available.
My mind changed one day in 2002. I had an appointment in another city one Monday at the Jaguar dealer for 7 a.m. to get new brake pads, but when I showed up they had gotten behind the previous Friday and bumped my appointment to 2 p.m. Not wanting to drive home and return, I pulled out a Yellow Pages to see what's to do with seven hours to kill. The page I opened to by pure chance was "Piano Dealers". Why not? So I went to the dealer I was vaguely aware was the city's largest. I immediately began thinking "Steinway and just maybe Knabe", since I'd many years earlier loved the sound of a Knabe concert grand I'd spent some hours on in a large auditorium one night late.
When I got to the dealer, there was only one salesman. The owner was out on a service call and there were no customers. I hadn't practiced in about 18 years and asked the salesman to simply continue what he was doing, which was just playing, but asked him to go around the huge room where about 200 pianos stood and let me wander, looking and listening. He played very well and seemed to enjoy the exercise. There were S&S, Baldwin, Knabe, Kawai, Yamaha, all sorts of Chinese jobs, and many other names I didn't recognize at the time.
About an hour into my visit and on about the tenth or twelth piano, a unique voice made me stop wandering and pause. It was the only one that had warmth, power, gravity and clarity all at the same time, throughout its register. Its voice was so well unified that it seemed to breath and sing. It reminded me of the way Peggy Lee's voice carried over a big band--powerful and nuanced with that deep-chested resonance combined with a clear edge of smoky breath.
"What's THAT one?" I asked.
"Chickering", he said.
I walked over to it and we began talking about it. It was a bit over 6 feet, from 1932, all original. He said it could be had as is for a modest price or restored to any level I might want before delivery.
While we were talking, the owner returned. He asked what was up and the salesman filled him in.
The owner lit up when the salesman told him that of all the pianos he'd played, only the Chickering had interested me. He began excitedly telling me the history of Chickering, telling me about various milestone models and told me about a concert grand he'd been trying unsuccessfully to buy for 40 years. He was an old man with 60 years in the business and a floor full of fine makes in all sizes, but there was no question which make he favored.
I was surprised when he told me the one that had interested me would be quite good but that if I really wanted to be happy, I should buy a larger model, even if I had to look awhile to find it.
Having been so biased against Chickering some 30 years earlier, the idea that they'd ever been a premier make was a surprise to me, but that singular impression of the way that voice stood out apart from all the others had hooked me.
After I left the Jaguar dealer that afternoon, I researched Chickering well into the night online, reading the history and looking at all ads of ones for sale. About 5 a.m., I found an ad for one out-of-state, a concert grand. I went to the bank before I hit the road and filled my suit coat pockets with packets of 100s, just in case. And happily parted with those stacks and threw in a stack more than the owner had asked, just for good measure, because I felt like a thief.
And I'm as happy as ever now that I did it. The only piano I've encountered since that might someday sit nested with it (since it's not going anywhere) would be a Fazioli concert grand.
Sorry for the long post, but your impressions mirror my own that day in 2002. I think your ears should be the judge. When I let my ears alone make the decision, I ended up turning an old bias on its head.
And I'm so glad I did. That tone has inspired me to learn the horribly complex bits I thought 40 years ago I might never conquer and to do them well enough to have strangers off the street ring my doorbell all excited to find out "Who can play that?!" and spend an hour excitedly talking and playing themselves. The best moment was when a piano-performance PHD-turned lawyer neighbor asked me, "What CD were you listening to today? That was great!", and to be able to say, "That was no CD. That was ME."
Finding the tone of voice that matches your mind's ear ideal lets you quit shopping and just get on with the fun part--the playing.
Whenever I have guests, I get to enjoy the beast from 30 feet away for hours on end. Even if I'd never been so inspired to learn to play myself, it'd be worth it for all the hours of joy I've had from some really fine players who get sucked in by that wonderful voice.
When I joined this place ten years ago, I seldom saw a positive post about Chickering. I was almost a lone voice. I'm happy to now see *several* voices actively singing praises about America's first piano maker. They may not have the resale value of S&S or M&H, but then, that's NOT the point, is it? I wouldn't part with mine for anything. It might get "company", but it's "the one".