This past week we had the opportunity to visit the reproducing piano
collection of Reese and Terry Banister. All of their instruments
have been completely restored and are meticulously maintained by Josh
Rapier. All of the major reproducing piano systems are represented
-- Ampico, Duo-Art, Welte Licensee, Artecho, Artrio-Angelus and
Recordo -- along with a large collection of rolls for each system.
My personal piano is a Knabe Ampico along with a Duo-Art upright so
those systems are very familiar to me. This was a rare opportunity
to hear other unfamiliar reproducing systems. In my almost 40 years
of collecting piano rolls, the opportunity to hear a restored Welte
equipped grand piano has been extremely rare; in all these years I've
heard a Welte only three times and that was very briefly. To my
knowledge there are very few restored grand pianos with Welte
mechanisms in my area.
I had never heard a piano with an Artrio Angelus or Artecho system so
this also was a rare treat. The first system we heard was the Artecho,
which has similarities to the Ampico B mechanism. This system was
in a 6'4" Knabe along with the original Ampico system. Reese did the
engineering to make both of these systems fit in this large piano and
perform as they should. The Artecho was a very impressive system with
a wide dynamic range, all the way down to 'pianissimo' like a
well-restored Ampico B.
After listening to rolls on all of the instruments except the Recordo
(there just wasn't time) we kept coming back to the Welte and Artrio.
The sound of those instruments and their respective reproducing systems
was just stunning. The Welte was in a 6'3" Baldwin and the Artrio was
in a 5'8" Hallet Davis piano. Both systems had a very wide dynamic
range and could play down to a whisper without missing notes, which is
very difficult for most reproducing pianos to accomplish.
The Artrio mechanism was a very late model produced by Simplex. Not
only is the performance of this system outstanding, its design is
extremely clever and unique. All of the expression components along
with the stack and valves are in the drawer, which has all of the other
common components too. Reese said that the late Artrio system made by
Simplex is very simple in design and operation. Its design might be
simple but that doesn't stop it from rendering an incredible
One of the rolls played by Josh on the Artrio was the "Barcarolle"
by Leschetizky, played by Ethel Leginska. I'm very familiar with this
piece; Phil Strauss and I recently recut an early version of this
piece on Ampico, played by Klemen. Of the two versions of this piece
available on Ampico, the Artrio roll was clearly better. The dynamic
range and subtlety of the coding was incredible, the sound just melted
away at times.
Josh has high quality recordings of all these pianos on his website
including the roll I just mentioned, played on the Artrio. You can
listen to them here: http://www.reproducingpianos.com/Recordings.htm
I would certainly recommend listening to all of them but really, there
is nothing like hearing these instruments in person. Many thanks again
to Reese and Josh for their hospitality.