Hungarian pianist Andras Schiff appeared at Koerner Hall in February with a program consisting of the final piano sonatas by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert. He played this concert on a Bosendorfer. This is noteworthy as at least locally, the majority of the concerts are played on a Steinway. An audience member made the following statement at intermission. "A Bosendorfer is one hundred times better than a Steinway!" Allowing for the obvious hyperbole, does this statement have any validity?
A little background information might be helpful here. The retail cost of concert New York Steinway or Vienna Bosendorfer is about $200,000. The high cost is due to the fact that these instruments are entirely handcrafted and take at least two years to make. Other pianos that rival these in quality are the Italian Fazioli or the German Bechstein.
For his album of J.S. Bach's keyboard concertos, the French pianist Alexandre Tharaud presents them on a Yamaha piano. In his view, the slightly thinner texture of the Yamaha is well suited for Baroque repertoire. The Bosendorfer and the Steinway each have their unique textures. Therefore, depending on your point of view, one piano may be more suitable than the other for a particular period or composer. It's not that one piano is better than the other but that they are different.
Final Word on the Bosendorfer
The American poet and cultural critic, Wayne Koestenbaum, in an essay titled "Goodbye Vienna" arrives at the following conclusion. "A New York Steinway sounds like a piano built for a robber baron. A Vienna Bosendorfer sounds like a piano for a psychoanalyst."