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So, here are two recordings I made of the Grieg Sonata Op.7, one in April 2007 and one in August 2008. At the time I was studying with George Donald, who was a student of Karl Schnabel and Aube Tzerko. The microphones, sound engineer, audio interface and recording device were identical (and don't ask me the full details because I can't remember!). The venues and pianos were different although they were next door to each other. I thought some of you might have found this to be an interesting comparison. I made this long before I was a Yamaha artist so there's no conflict with me telling you the information about the pianos here.

Here is the recording from 2007, made in St Paul's Episcopal Cathedral, Dundee.
This is the 1910ish or 1912 Blüthner. The strings were replaced in c.1975 but otherwise the piano, hammers, board, plank, are original. You can tell it's a bit tired and the venue helps the sustain!




Here is the recording from 2008, made in the Caird Hall, Dundee, and it was a 1984 Steinway D selected that year (84) by Ashkenazy for the hall. In 2000 it had a new top action installed. It has since been fully rebuilt in Hamburg and reinstalled in the hall (in 2019).



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Beautiful sound from that Bluthner, kind of made the Steinway sound one dimensional by comparison.

I wonder how much of that is due to the venue? Cathedrals have a way of making the sound "swirl" around the room and softening any hard edges.

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Very interesting. First off - beautifully played.

I went back and forth comparing a few times. To me the Bluthner sounded overdriven (not a criticism of you) as if it was struggling. It lacked clarity in fortissimo passages and became muddy. It was better in pianissimo but a little tinkly at times.

The Steinway seemed altogether better articulated, so I could hear individual notes with more clarity and precision. It made for a better musical performance to my ear and taste.

However, as Yojimbp said, perhaps room dynamics played a part. If it was a close recorded set up with not too much ambient mic in the mix, then I would think we are mainly getting a pretty good piano comparison.

I don't have very much personal experience of Bluthners (whereas I had long term loan of a D) and my instinct in my few encounters is that the Bluthner is not really well suited to concert halls. Better for more intimate recitals. However, had you not told us what the piano is, I would not have known it was a Bluthner necessarily but would have guessed that it was an older and comparatively weak piano.


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Thank you AJB, I appreciate your words! That old Blüthner is not representative of their new instruments, not least because the designs and build have changed quite a bit. The piano on that recording had somewhat worn hammers, old strings, and hadn't had more maintenance than regular tuning, so that overdriving quality is probably from that. I remember I didn't play it particularly loud, or at least didn't hit it particularly hard, and it became quite a balancing act do draw out good tone from it. The sound of the venue helped quite a lot, because I have some recordings of that piano which were more closely mic'd - back in 2018 I recorded the Tempest sonata, and one set of mics were far away capturing the venue, which is close to what the audience would hear in a concert, and another set of mics were in the more traditional recording studio set up and captured the tone from the instrument. Well, the tone from the instrument is pretty bad now, the piano needs rebuilt or replaced!

The Steinway actually wasn't that good either, it was just much better than the Blüthner. I'm not saying Steinways are not good, I'm saying that Steinway wasn't good. It had been the main concert piano in that venue for 24 years, and while it might just be a provincial hall, for a time there was a concert and rehearsal every week on it, with the piano being shunted out from the backstage store to the stage with the lights. Then there were the solo recitals, the school recitals, the school choirs, because there was only that one piano in the hall. That was a very old-fashioned town-hall mentality, so the piano got wrecked quite quickly. John Lill said it was one of the finest pianos he'd ever played back in 2005, but as much as I have a lot of respect for John Lill, he liked it because it was very bright and his already weakened hearing found it easier to play and hear for that reason. I find it interesting that a lot of pianists like to play overly bright pianos in concerto performances because it allows you to hear the attack, but actually it can get lost in the hall and the orchestra can drown it out very easily. Now that hall has 3 model Ds, a year 2000 with new hammers in their smaller recital room, that older D rebuilt in the concert hall, and they also bought a rather nice new D in 2018. I played the new and the '84 piano side by side once and the difference is quite incredible, the new piano has much more range, probably because it is new.


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Originally Posted by Yojimbo
Beautiful sound from that Bluthner, kind of made the Steinway sound one dimensional by comparison.

I wonder how much of that is due to the venue? Cathedrals have a way of making the sound "swirl" around the room and softening any hard edges.

I agree, the Bluthner sounds so much richer, though it's clear that it's an older piano and has its limitations.

Very nice playing, thanks for sharing!


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Interesting analysis Joseph. I am just an experienced amateur who has done a few recitals so nowhere near your level. My experience is small halls if they have a Steinway D tend to think it must be amazing, because it is a Steinway, when often they are not great. It's expensive to keep adjusting pianos for concert perfection.

Interesting too that Two Cats preferred the Bluthner. It just goes to show that two people can hear, and prefer, very different things.


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The D sounds too bright and punchy...Bluthner sounds a bit thin and washed out. But both still sound quite good in the grand scheme.

I think in their ideal form, with a mellower Steinway and a richer Bluthner, you'd be hearing equally optimal recordings, albeit in different ways...channeled through such fine recitations.

Thanks for sharing these.

Last edited by James Gordon; 07/05/22 01:41 PM.

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Thanks all!

James: Yes I agree. In a way I was being a bit provocative posting these, showing that the "Golden Age" piano is not always tonally very good, and that just because a piano is a Steinway it doesn't mean it'll give the appropriate sound, even if it is good sound. Of course, a rebuilt "golden age" piano is a different matter but so is a new piano. Some people say Steinways are warm, some say they are very bright, but it comes down totally to the individual piano, how it has been set up and how it has been cared for. I am firmly of the opinion that to produce a top quality recording one needs a top quality instrument in the best possible condition, and that's usually a piano less than 10 years old, played just enough to keep the parts moving and not enough to cause too much wear, with a technician constantly babysitting the piano to make sure it retains the sound it needs for the studio. Often a recording piano needs a different set of qualities from a hall piano. A hall piano has to be heard at the back, and that sometimes means not the most beautiful tone. A recording piano needs the most beautiful tone.

AJB You're right, to keep a piano in optimal condition for recording it can be very difficult. When it gets too expensive for one of the large companies to maintain their piano, or for that matter a concert hall or studio, they will sell the instruments on. These instruments are often in excellent condition and would suit a smaller venue, or maybe a regional hall, or maybe a pianist who wants a large instrument at home but for their practice piano doesn't need the absolute finest sound quality at all times, but they have often deteriorated enough that the microphones pick up the inconsistencies which is frustrating for a sound engineer and a listener.

It is interesting to see who prefers which sound, and I wonder if these preferences are based solely on the instrument, or the performance, or the venue. It's probably too hard to know since when playing any piano, you change things in the touch subconsciously as you listen to the instrument, and so you can't perform the same way on two different instruments.

While I've only got access to my P515, I practice on different sounds, or change the voicing on it from time to time, so I can simulate these different situations. It's not the same as moving between different pianos of course, but it does give something of that feeling of change. I'd prefer to have several acoustic grands set up to play with different levels of resistance and brightness but that's just not going to happen!


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I've spent the long weekend in the mountains, and only had spotty phone service and no other internet connection, so I've spent the morning catching up on all the recordings posted over the last couple of days in a couple of interesting threads.

Nice playing all around! thumb


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Would be interesting Joseph to hear the same piece played by you on a concert Yamaha of modern vintage or a newer D.

I once, fairly briefly, had a significant financial interest in a studio which had among other things a concert Fazioli. It was only used for recording and rehearsal, and every professional pianist who played it wanted it to be slightly, and in some cases radically different. The tech attention was costly and ultimately quite frustrating. In the end I felt it damaged the piano (which was beautiful). I played it a lot and ended up wishing I had said "it is how it is". It led me to the conclusion that by and large it is better for the pianist to adapt to the piano rather than try to change a professional instrument to meet a myriad of different preferences. As long as it is in tune and regulation is within manufacturer spec. I would never do it again!


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Interesting recordings and beautifully performed!

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Originally Posted by AJB
Would be interesting Joseph to hear the same piece played by you on a concert Yamaha of modern vintage or a newer D.

I once, fairly briefly, had a significant financial interest in a studio which had among other things a concert Fazioli. It was only used for recording and rehearsal, and every professional pianist who played it wanted it to be slightly, and in some cases radically different. The tech attention was costly and ultimately quite frustrating. In the end I felt it damaged the piano (which was beautiful). I played it a lot and ended up wishing I had said "it is how it is". It led me to the conclusion that by and large it is better for the pianist to adapt to the piano rather than try to change a professional instrument to meet a myriad of different preferences. As long as it is in tune and regulation is within manufacturer spec. I would never do it again!

Yeah, I think that's a problem with studios, you can't please everyone. Some artists get around it by bringing their own piano, but it's true you can't keep voicing and re-voicing the piano for different artists or the hammers will end up ruined. Yamaha have two actions for each of their concert grands in New York, and now RFH in London has started doing that. I think RFH did it first actually. That gives more options I guess.

Sometimes it's better just to play the piano as it is, honestly.


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Music from my country. I loved it. The Blüthner was maybe a little muddled, but so warm and embracing. It has my vote. Thanks again.


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