Daniel Barenboim's new piano is not just any new piano, but one he worked to build from scratch, with Belgian piano maker Chris Maene, inspired by a piano owned by Liszt that sounded distinctly unlike modern Steinways. It differs from the usual models in various respects, most notably in that its strings do not cross, and while it's not a shocking departure it is most definitely something new. For this, Barenboim deserves credit, and so too do Deutsche Grammophon's engineers, who, working in Berlin's Teldex Studio, capture Barenboim's display of the piano's capabilities in full color. The instrument is unusually brilliant on top, and unusually clear on the bottom. Sample the Beethoven 32 Variations in C minor on an original theme, WoO 80 -- an excellent pick -- for a sort of demonstration of how the instrument sounds in different registers and textures. The opening three sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti are rather odd -- sort of as if a fortepiano were used to play Chopin -- but they certainly live up to the goal of promoting the piano as a major technological advance. The program ends with big Romantic showpieces: a Chopin ballade, a Wagner transcription, and the Liszt that is requisite to establishing the piano's credibility, and it passes with flying colors in all three, with a ringing, clear upper register. It's hard to say whether Barenboim will succeed in breaking Steinway's near monopoly with his new piano, but give the album a listen and you won't dismiss the idea out of hand.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim