Reading Dan Wilson's recent report from London prompted me try and
pinpoint the qualities that Denis Hall has that has made him in my
opinion the ideal reproducing piano restorationist.
I have known Denis for years and have listened to his player grands and
have never heard better. Denis not only attends live piano recitals so
that he can know what pianos should sound like, he also listens to
recordings of piano solo and with orchestra and is an expert on disc
recording by the legendary master pianist found on piano rolls. All
this background might appear worthless to restorers who concentrate
only on the mechanics.
Denis, who is not a trained engineer, along with others in the field,
have become self taught engineers. One should never, however, discount
the mechanical side of the restoration, ever mindful of the temptation
and danger of going further than tweeking/adjusting the system. He and
perhaps many others can listen to a roll on a reproducer and quietly
pull down the belly cover, make a few adjustments and suddenly the rolls
come further to life! The more a restorer can actually play the piano
the better job he can bring to the task of the rebuild also.
If one were to recommend a CD that has one should listen to after
completion of rebuilding a reproducing grand for my money it would be
a 10 year old recording by Jean-Phillipe Collard, piano and Andre Previn
and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of Saint-Saens Piano Concerto No. 1
and "African Fantasie" on EMI CDC 7 49757 2.
Be mindful however that it is a mistake to make recordings of reproducing
roll driven grands specifically set up to play in living rooms and try
and make them sound like concert setting pianos. The finest sounding
recording I have ever heard was a recording Denis made of his Duo Art
piano made in his home and not in some concert hall with the engineers
making all sort of correction to make the recording "sound better"!
The value of listening to such a CD is to serve and remind us all that
nothing will ever beat the sound of a live artist under a proper setting
and player pianos are at best good phantoms of the real thing. Dead
artists whom we can only hear on piano rolls is in my way of thinking
better than old records and even CDs. Here the player grand remains