During Till Fellner’s recent concert at the Austrian Embassy he did not play on the Austrian Embassy’s Bösendorfer, favoring instead a Steinway borrowed locally and delivered especially for his recital. When asked after the recital if he had tried the Bösendorfer Fellner noted laconically, as he sipped a well-earned glass of beer, “Yes - burn it.”’
Fellner's a new pianist to me, but it's an interesting comment he made.
I just recently read "Men, Women and Pianos" by Arthur Loesser. The book is usually thought of as social history of the piano, but it's much more than that. Among a host of other issues, Loesser writes about the piano and economic history, industrial competition between nations, and the history of manufacturing and how the 19th century steam driven factory effected production of pianos. Loesser also writes at considerable length about the competition between manufacturers of top line pianos.
Loesser would have us believe that after Steinway trumped Chickering as the piano of choice for virtuoso keyboard artists, Steinway really had no competition other than Mason and Hamlin, and even that competition was limited to the years 1900-1925. Knabe, Baldwin and the rest of them all put up their dukes and made the challenge, but none of them, ever, was the choice of artists. Many artists were happy to accept a fee, play upon a Knabe or Baldwin, and allow themselves to be billed as a Baldwin or Knabe artist. Loesser's point is that other than Mason and Hamlin for a limited time period, Steinway was always the real choice of pianists.
Loesser also points out that manufacturers of high end pianos seem to need someone who bears the family name to maintain quality. As I recall, there is no longer anyone who bears the name Steinway in the Steinway factory. I wonder if this is necessarily a bad omen. And now we have Bosendorfer, Bechstein, and a host of others coming down the pike and issuing the challenge. And I wonder. Bosenderfer! Just the name is enough to put the fear of the lord in you--sounds like a sixteen cylinder German racing car at the INDY 500 coming round the corner to vanquish the Americans. But is there a "Herr Boesendorfer" involved at the Boesendorfer factory?
Till Felner isn't the only artist unimpressed. Someplace on Steven Hough's website, I recall him writing that Steinway is still the choice.