the international market. The Fridolin-Schimmel is an entry-level piano, fully designed by Schimmel (including the action) and made in China. There are currently three models in the series – F116, F121 and F123 – with prices ranging from £3,950 to £4,650.
‘It has an even action,’ says Reyes, as Scarlatti fills the Gray’s Inn Road showroom. ‘Upright pianos obviously have a much shallower action, but this is a very manageable piano. Sometimes there can be problems with repetition in these pianos as the response is not as sensitive as in a grand. The tone is very agreeable.’ It certainly sounds convincing, particularly when played by a pianist of Reyes’ calibre. But would he really want to work on this piano? ‘A professional looks for an even action, not excessively light; in that respect, this piano is suitable for some high-level practice,’ he says. ‘However, from an artistic point of view, you would want a sound with a broader range.’
It is unlikely that a concert pianist would be in the market for this particular type of piano, but for a beginner – or even a serious, intermediate player – the sound is attractive. It naturally lacks some complexity in the lower registers yet is still nicely resonant. ‘These pianos are equivalent to the Indonesian-made Kawai and Yamaha uprights,’ explains Loat. ‘They are aimed at the home user to enjoy reasonably simple repertoire.’ It’s worth pointing out that pianos are often made in factories by third parties then simply given the affiliated organisation’s decals. The Fridolin is very much a Schimmel-designed specification, built by Pearl River. ‘It’s an unusually collaborative approach,’ says Loat. The piano stool moves along to the next instrument. This is the Wilhelm Schimmel, the entry-level Europeanmade Schimmel piano. There are three models in this series (W114, W118 and W123) and their prices range from £7,250 to £10,000. We are not yet fully immersed in the Braunschweig soundworld; these pianos are made in Schimmel’s Polish factory in Kalisz. However, there is a clear indication of the Schimmel tone – the soundboard is not mass-produced, like the Fridolin’s, and takes at least six months to create.
‘This one has more dynamic range [than the Fridolin]; I feel I can play with a little more nuance,’ says Reyes. ‘It’s less effortful in the repeated phrases.’ He tries out more Scarlatti, then adds: ‘I’m not used to playing something so shallow and light. I cannot handle it perfectly as the notes run away when I apply weight and energy. But the action is very even across the range.’ Howells reminds us that Wilhelm Schimmel uprights come in different sizes. ‘There is an option to have one with a bigger soundboard,’ she explains, ‘but we’ve chosen this one as it’s closer to the Fridolin and gives a like-for-like comparison.’
Having visited Schimmel’s Braunschweig workshop some years ago, I can attest to the attention to detail given to every component part. The maker uses a Renner action – also German-made – for which it provides its own felt. ‘The consistency of the hammer felt is crucial,’ says Loat. ‘It’s like playing tennis and searching for that sweet spot.’
Next, Reyes takes his seat at the Schimmel C116, part of the Classic range and the maker’s best-selling model. The C116 and C120 uprights are enhanced versions of the original pianos that were popular in the 1980s and ’90s, admired for their rich bass and singing treble. The other models in the range – C126 and C130 – are based on Schimmel’s superior Konzert range. The Classic instruments cost between £11,800 and £19,100.
‘This is another world,’ says Reyes, as phrases flow from his fingers with ease. ‘The action is much more responsive; it’s close to what professionals need to make a clean transition from the practice room to the stage. You can hear that my ornaments sound better all of a sudden! The instrument is allowing me more precision. The tone is richer and there seems to be more power. Now we are beginning to talk about a real possibility for a professional pianist.’ He begins to play Chopin’s Ballade No 1 in G minor, which becomes a performance as the pianist loses himself in the sound. ‘This is a piano that really inspires me,’ he confirms. ‘I love the long tone in the middle range. For an upright, this is fantastic.’
Alberto Reyes: ‘The feel of the keys is so important’
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