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SACD Review

Russian Moments

  • Sergei Rachmaninoff: Six Moments Musicaux
  • Serge Prokofieff:
  • Sonata #2 in D minor, Op. 14
  • Sonata #3 in A minor, Op. 28
  • Nikolai Kapustin: Eight Concert Etudes, Op. 40
  • #1 Prelude
  • #2 Reverie
  • #3 Toccatina
  • #5 Raillery
Mario Häring, piano
Ars Produktion SACD ARS38151 65:21 Hybrid Multichannel
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Born in Hanover, Germany in 1989 of Japanese-German parentage, Mario Häring studied piano from age five. His teachers include Fabio Bidini, Karl-Heinz Kämmerling and Lars Vogt. He has won numerous first prizes in piano competitions and regularly appears in recitals, chamber music performances, and with major orchestras in Europe and Japan. This is apparently his recording debut and from the evidence here, I would say he may well be a talent to watch. In the album notes Häring assesses his feelings about the music of the three composers on this disc: "Rachmaninov moves heart and soul as Prokofiev does the mind and Kapustin the body…." That revealing statement pretty accurately sums up his approach to the music here.

The Moments Musicaux are among Rachmaninov's most introspective and brooding pieces – for the most part they show the composer in especially intimate and dark moods. Yes, there are bright moments here and there, and some lively music as well, but there is a predominance of sadness (or is it regret?) and darkness that is unusual for even Rachmaninov. The seemingly ecstatic #6 is even troubled: it shimmers and glistens but with an undercurrent of agitation and struggle. Häring effectively captures the dark emotions of the music throughout the set, but without exaggerating its brooding or melancholy qualities. Indeed, his tempos are generally brisk and he infuses the music – music that can in lesser hands sound almost deadening – with spirit and a sense of purpose. Indeed, these pieces are quite worthwhile creations, but when played too caressingly or too slowly, they can border on boredom. Fortunately, Häring finds the right mixture of passion and sadness, and of elegance and virtuosity.

Häring's Prokofiev is just as effective. True, his buildup in the first movement of the Second Sonata's development section is a little stiff, but rarely do you hear a misstep elsewhere. His Scherzo is playful and deftly humorous, and the melancholy third movement is mesmerizing in his rich tones, elegant phrasing and slightly less potent dynamics. The finale brims with vitality and life, and with a bit of mischief too in dynamics that are now quite powerful. The Third Sonata begins with an appropriately motoric rush of notes, but you hear everything clearly and with subtle accenting and phrasing. The lyrical theme that follows comes across with a deftly imagined sweet-and-sour character and the ensuing faster sections feature masterful dynamics and digital clarity that may have been surpassed only by Gary Graffman on his Columbia recording from over fifty years ago.

If Häring's Rachmaninov and Prokofiev are very good, his Kapustin is superb. He catches all the quirkiness of this modern Russian composer's colorful jazzy style with such spirit and swagger. Simply put, he gets the most from these light, often feral pieces: try the utterly thrilling accounts of #3 Toccatina and #5 Raillery, performances that will leave you breathless in their madcap pacing and virtuosic flamboyance.

The sound reproduction is excellent in all works and the album notes are informative. Overall, this is a splendid debut disc for young Mario Häring, a pianist who will likely have a highly successful career on the world's concert stages.

Copyright © 2015, Robert Cummings