AS A PIANIST who performs both classical and jazz repertoire, I look for pianos with a wide enough tonal palette to meet the different demands of those genres. Often, a piano will perform wonderfully for a lush Brahms intermezzo, yet fall short in an up-tempo arrangement of a Bill Evans tune. Sometimes it seems that, in designing and voicing their instruments, piano makers must choose between sounds that are warm and rich or bright and articulate. But today, more than ever, a pianist is expected to be proficient in a wide variety of styles, from Bach preludes to Prokofiev sonatas. I have often felt that to give these works their due, and to fulfill the demands of each style, would require two or more pianos. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to discover that pianos from Perzina, a brand previously unknown to me, display the versatility I’ve been looking for in a single instrument.
The Gebr. Perzina (Perzina Bros.) piano company was established in Schwerin, Germany, in 1871, and was a prominent piano maker until after World War I, following which it continued making pianos until World War II, but with declining fortunes. After the war, the company became part of a state-owned enterprise, but following the reunification of Germany, in 1990, Perzina was revived as a privately owned company by Dutch piano entrepreneur Ron Bol, who eventually partnered with Chinese entrepreneur Sun Qiang and moved the Perzina operations from Germany to China. In 2003, Perzina built its own factory in Yantai, China. The company says it uses the original German scale designs, and ships many European parts, woods, and materials to Yantai for inclusion in the pianos.
With the help of Bob Rosenthal of Piano Gallery, a Perzina dealer in Dallas, Texas (dfwpianogallery.com), I spent an afternoon sampling three Perzina models: the DL-187 grand (6′ 2″), the GP-152 grand (5′ 1″), and the UP-129 vertical (51″).
I began with the DL-187 grand, whose stunning, two-tone art case of polished ebony and bubinga communicated a high level of quality before I’d played a single note. (The standard, non-designer model of the same size is the GP-187.) Playing a Bach allemande, I was immediately impressed with the tonal clarity and presence of the middle register. There were, simultaneously, a warmth and a purity that I associate with the more expensive, handmade German pianos. Had I not already known the DL-187’s size (6′ 2″), its resonance would have led me to guess a length closer to 7′. In fact, all three of the Perzina pianos I sampled had a fuller sound than their dimensions suggest. This may be related to Perzina’s floating-soundboard design, which allows the soundboard to remain unattached to the inner rim at certain points to allow for freer vibration, and thus a more resonant sound. Additionally, Perzina makes its soundboards in a reverse convex shape, which, they claim, helps their soundboards better retain their shape over time.
One of the challenges of playing jazz is that one often plays piano in a combo with bass and drums, and in a club that is far from quiet. Such settings require a piano with a brighter sound, to avoid being buried in a wash of low and midrange sound. This is one of the reasons jazz pianists often prefer Yamahas. When it comes to more delicate repertoire, however — say, jazz ballads or Schubert lieder — sometimes the sound of a brighter instrument is too harsh. I found the Perzina to be very well balanced in this regard, and suitable for a wide variety of styles. The high register of the DL-187 had a nice shimmer without being too bright, which served me well for jazz standards. In addition, the bass was full and present in the lowest octave, though slightly less so in the second octave from the bottom, which was the DL-187’s weakest area. The action was quite responsive, again reminiscent of higher-end instruments. I was able to conjure almost any sound with little effort, and execute fast repeated notes with ease. Pedaling was equally straightforward.
Next, at 5′ 1″, was Perzina’s baby grand, the GP-152. In my experience, small grands such as this are often bought more for looks; they offer few sonic advantages above what a good vertical model provides. The bass register is often unresponsive and anemic due to the shortness of the strings, and the high register often has a forced brightness that tends to become brittle over time. Yet I heard none of this in the GP-152’s sound, and felt that it stood on its own as a quality grand piano. It performed evenly between registers, with a tonal quality that was similar to if a bit smaller than the DL-187’s. The bass was firm, and nicely complemented the other registers. The upper register was clear and warm, though not quite as bright as the DL-187’s. The middle register was resonant and even, with no dead spots.
My final stop was the UP-129, a 51″ vertical, which I compared with several verticals in the same price range from different makers, among them Yamaha and Kawai. What immediately struck me about the Perzina was its bass register, which was significantly fuller than the bass of the other makes. I suspect that the floating-soundboard technology should again be given credit here. The UP-129’s bass was well suited to even the heavier romantic literature, such as Rachmaninoff and Liszt. The middle and upper registers were similar in warmth and clarity to those of the GP-152 grand, allowing me to comfortably play a wide variety of repertoire. I felt equally at home playing Bach, Brahms, and Ellington. Although vertical actions are almost never on a par with grand actions, the UP-129’s action was, even so, quite good for a vertical.
I should note that all three pianos appeared to have been very well prepped. The level of factory prep work differs with each piano maker, and even some highly regarded brands fall down in this area. If the factory prep for such brands is not supplemented by excellent in-store prep, it can have a profound effect on the customer’s experience of trying a new piano in the showroom. As I was unable to compare these three instruments with samples of the same models as delivered straight from the Perzina factory, I don’t know how much the Piano Gallery’s prepping may have contributed to my experience of playing them.
In summary, my first experience of playing Perzina pianos left a favorable impression. They displayed a high level of consistency and balance across registers, with a distinctive sound, particularly in the bass. Unique design features, interesting case finishes, and capable performance combine to make a persuasive argument for the brand, and two of the three models reviewed are priced lower than a number of the similarly sized models of the Japanese brands with which they compete. Given the quality of the small and midsize grands I tried, I would love to see Perzina extend its line to include larger grand models.