Dr. Benjamin Boren ,an American pianist and pedagogue currently living in Burlingame, California.
Based in the Czech Republic, piano builder Petrof celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2014. Through the late 1990s and early 2000s, Petrof pianos were positioned in the North American marketplace as a low-cost European alternative to other well-known, established brands. Their grand-piano models, reviewed in the Spring 2010 issue of Piano Buyer, were named, from smallest to largest, with Roman numerals: V, IV, III, II, I. In 2009, Petrof’s grand-piano lineup was revised, with new designs, materials, and a higher level of build quality. The new models — from smallest to largest: Bora, Breeze, Storm, Pasat, Monsoon, and Mistral — were designed to compete with the great pianos of Europe and America. Features include custom-tapered soundboards, genuine ebony bridge caps in the high treble, laser-placed front and rear duplexes, single stringing (as in some of the most expensive European pianos), and a choice of two action suppliers. We asked guest reviewer Dr. Benjamin Boren to take a look at the three smaller Petrof models: Bora, Breeze, and Storm. — Editor
Petrof P173 Breeze Klasik As a pianist who has played mostly pianos owned by the universities I’ve attended and at which I’ve taught and performed, I’ve rarely had the opportunity to try out instruments by makers other than Baldwin, Bösendorfer, Mason & Hamlin, Steinway, and Yamaha. I had heard of the Petrof brand, but had neither seen nor played one before. With the help of Joe Brattesani of World Class Pianos, in the San Francisco peninsula city of Burlingame, California, I was able, for this review, to sample three recently upgraded models: the Bora (5′ 2″), the Breeze (5′ 6″), and the Storm (6′ 2″).
Even before playing, I noticed the pianos’ aesthetic appeal; they are beautifully constructed, and feature eye-catching wood veneer around the inner rim. This particular Breeze had the “Klasik” (Classic) upgrade, which includes a filigree music desk and tapered, “ice-cream cone” legs, both tastefully elegant without being too ornate. These pianos also display, on the right keyblock, the European Excellence crest, an attractive feature that declares the instruments’ solely European construction and use of at least 61% European-made parts and materials.
To test the pianos, I played repertoire from a recent recital: Mozart’s Adagio in B Minor; Beethoven’s Variations in C-Minor, WoO 80; the complete Chopin Préludes; and Carl Vine’s Sonata No. 1. To test how the pianos reacted to specific situations and textures, I also played excerpts from Debussy’s Clair de Lune, Liszt’s Sonata in B-Minor, Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3, and various preludes and fugues by J.S. Bach, among other pieces. Certain capabilities, such as repeated notes, were tested separately from pieces. Generally, the instruments behaved similarly in almost every aspect, with the characteristics, as expected, becoming more pronounced and enhanced with each increase in size.
All three instruments produced a distinct, remarkably warm, rich sound, with considerable sustain in every register. The round tone rang with a bell-like quality, rendering percussive sounds difficult to create. They also possessed tremendous dynamic breadth for their size, easily generating the entire range between pianissimo and fortissimo. Each piano had lively middle and upper registers, and a lower register that was less immediately present. While this did not create any balance problems, pianists will need to use greater articulation to match the lower register with the others.
Using the damper pedal created tremendous resonance; additionally, the sound did not project as much as with larger, concert, grands, but rather stayed closer to the piano. Because of this, pianists will likely find themselves using the pedal sparingly; it also makes these pianos more suitable for rooms with dry acoustics. The una corda pedals all had the similar effect of shortening the sustain and dulling the resonance, but without creating a muffled or muted sound. While on brighter pianos I often like to experiment with this pedal for different colors, here I found it unnecessary, much preferring the natural sound.
Petrof’s grand pianos are available with either the Petrof Original Action or a Renner action. The Breeze and Storm that I played featured the Petrof Original Action, the Bora a Renner action. I was told that, except for tuning, the pianos had not been prepped prior to my arrival; my remarks here are based on their condition directly from the factory. I found both actions delightfully sensitive, of medium weight, and remarkably well regulated. They allowed for excellent control in the quietest playing, yet responded with surprising sprightliness in fast passages and repeated notes, handling both with ease without overtiring me. I found that the Petrof Original Actions handled repeated notes slightly better than the Renner, and offered a modicum more control; however, pianists playing the most demanding repertoire will be happy with either.
Given these findings, I believe that these pianos are well suited to a wide variety of repertoire. Their lengthy sustain and round tone allowed Classical melodies to sing without needing pedaling to combat dryness, while their resonance, and wide ranges of dynamics and color, created lush, full sonorities for Romantic and French Impressionist repertoire. I was particularly impressed with the Bora, which, despite being only 5′ 2″, had excellent dynamic range and was capable of great nuance; it would be an ideal practice piano even for pianists of the highest level. The two smaller instruments are probably best used in a home setting; either would be an excellent practice and teaching piano. The largest model, the Storm, with its bigger sound, could be used in large classrooms or small performance halls.