Steve Moffatt

Steve Moffatt

Born within the sound of tennis balls in Wimbledon, Steve Moffatt’s earliest musical memories are of his father’s dubious tenor accompanying 78s of Gigli and Bjorling. As a reporter he covered Jimi Hendrix’s inquest. He now attends concerts and reviews them for NewsLocal newspapers where he is production editor.


Articles by Steve Moffatt

CD and Other Review

Review: Verdi: Rigoletto (Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia)

★★★☆☆ Italy in 1954 was steadily emerging from the disasters of the war. Fellini filmed La Strada and in a recording studio in Rome one of the most exciting tenors of the time, Mario del Monaco, was singing a role that we don’t normally associate with him. Rigoletto’s notorious Duke of Mantua is seemingly a perfect fit for the Italian tenor’s virile and thrilling delivery, and yet this post-war studio recording under the steady baton of Alberto Erede – here reissued on Decca Eloquence – is something of a rarity. Del Monaco’s lower larynx technique and testosterone-driven energy are ideal for Verdi’s set pieces Questo o quella and the wonderful quartet. But equal billing must go to Italian baritone Aldo Protti, who was a specialist in the title role having played the nasty court jester well into his 60s, and Austrian soprano Hilde Gueden. The latter with her sweet and light tessitura was a noted Mozartian, but she does equally well here and her scenes with Protti are a highlight. In those pre-stereo days the Decca engineers were yet to perfect their hallmark sound but, despite some balance problems with the woodwind and the inevitable soupy quality of the strings,…

August 14, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Fiamma del Bel Canto (Dianna Damrau)

★★★★☆ Fresh from her triumphant Lucia, German diva Diana Damrau stays in Donizetti territory for her latest solo album, mixed up with some Bellini, Verdi and a couple of verismo numbers for good measure. The 43 year-old has established a glowing reputation in Europe and at New York’s Met where she has become a firm favourite. This collection shows us why. Damrau’s versatility is firmly to the fore in excerpts from Donizetti’s Rosmonda d’Inghliterra and Maria Stuarda, intercut by arias from Bellini’s I Puritani and La Sonnambula, before her applauded dramatic skills are given a workout in selections from Verdi’s I Masnadieri, La Traviata and Luisa Miller. Her vocal accuracy and agility are no better displayed than in Ah! Non giunge from La Sonnambula, but it is what she does with Verdi – and favourites from La Bohème and Pagliacci – which whet the appetite of this reviewer. This is a voice full of power and beauty across the entire range, but with the additional character and buoyancy necessary for the bel canto repertoire. Damrau gets strong support from mezzo Nicole Brandolino, tenor Piotr Beczała and her husband bass Nicolas Testé. The Orchestra Teatro Regio Torino under Gianandrea Noseda has…

August 13, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Holst: The Planets (Sydney Symphony/David Robertson)

In March, when the world observed Earth Hour, conductor David Robertson led the Sydney Symphony and a “Global Orchestra” in an innovative Internet project in which musicians around the country hooked up to play along with a live performance in the Opera House. The idea was to perform an hour-long piece while the country turned off the lights. There could only be one work that would be perfect for the occasion and that is Gustav Holst’s The Planets. It’s often easy with such a familiar work to think it a hackneyed old warhorse. But forget the countless misuses and abuses by ad execs and lazy movie directors and put yourself in the shoes of someone hearing it for the first time. Surf just a few bars of any movement and you realise for an English audience in 1916 there was nothing quite like it. Stravinsky, Dukas, Wagner and Debussy were all influences but this is still a strikingly original work. Mars with its insistent 5/4 beat and chaotic chords or the quiet beauty of Venus; the Mendelssohnian quicksilver of Mercury or the bubbling jollity of Jupiter’s opening; the ominous sense of senescence of Saturn and Uranus’s magical innocence through to…

July 20, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: My Life Is An Opera (Roberto Alagna)

★★★☆☆ It’s unfortunate that at 51, French tenor Roberto Alagna is probably best remembered for walking off after being booed by the La Scala claque, all captured on YouTube. And then there were tempestuous years with second wife Angela Gheorghiu, which prompted the nickname “the Ceausescus” and for Jonathan Miller to dub them the Bonnie and Clyde of opera. But there have been triumphs as well. From his earliest days, listening to his Sicilian dad singing Italian songs on building sites around Paris, and cathartic moments when he saw Mario Lanza in The Great Caruso and later met Luciano Pavarotti at a record signing, eventually auditioning for him, Alagna’s life has resembled the synopsis of an operatic potboiler. Hence the title of his latest album, My Life Is An Opera, which comes with the most excruciating liner notes I have read for a while and on which he forsakes his earlier crossover hits for some mainly bel canto and verismo arias. In among them he includes a couple of surprises – Ernest Reyer’s Esprits, gardiens des ces lieux vénérés and Karl Goldmark’s Magische Töne, for example, as well as a short excerpt from his brother’s opera The Last Day of…

July 8, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Wagner: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (Wiener Philharmoniker/Gatti)

★★★★☆ This splendid DVD of Norwegian director Stefan Herheim’s 2013 Salzburg Festival production of Die Meistersinger draws a strong visual analogy between Wagner’s comic opera and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It works well, aided by a superlative cast, some knockout staging and the full Vienna Philharmonic and Staatsopernchor under conductor Daniele Gatti. The sets comprise oversized Biedermeier furniture and fittings, emphasising the fairytale feeling. Roberto Sacca as Eurovision song candidate Walther works well with Anna Gabler convincing as his eventual bride. The show, of course, belongs to Hans Sachs, and in Michael Volle we have a particularly fine one, slapstick when playing off Markus Werba’s pedantic, conniving Beckmesser, but also with a very human touch. There are some clever theatrical moments, but look out for the Apprentices’ Dance when hand puppets make way for the full-size thing. Busts of Beethoven, Goethe and Schopenhauer – representing German art to be protected from foreign influences – act as silent witnesses until the exquisite quintet when Sachs unveils the noticeably larger bust of Wagner himself. There is some obligatory on-stage carnality in the crowd scenes but nothing too hard-core. Gatti (shortly to take up his new position as chief conductor of the Concertgebouw),…

July 8, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Donizetti: Lucia di Lammermoor (Damrau)

When Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor was premiered in Naples in 1835 there was as much drama off stage as on. The San Carlo opera house was on the verge of bankruptcy and the musicians hadn’t been paid. His diva, Fanny Tacchinardi Persiani, was miffed that the tenor Edgardo’s death scene comes after hers – this in spite of the fact that he stabs himself when he hears her death knell! To make things even worse the glass harmonica player, so vital for the mad scene, quit and the composer had to rescore it with a second flute. Fortunately conductor Jesús López-Cobos seems to have had a much easier time with this fine new release starring German soprano Diana Damrau and the popular Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja. Recorded from live concert performances in Munich over four nights, this is a good if not exceptional production. The two leads make a handsome vocal couple but there are occasional ragged edges that would have been airbrushed out in a studio recording. In the big duet Verranno a te sull’aure, for example, Calleja finishes well before Damrau.  However, these are minor flaws. The ensemble singing in the sextet is a standout and Damrau shines…

May 14, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Volkmar Andreae: Symphony in F (Bournemouth Symphony)

The Guild label’s mission to restore Volkmar Andreae to the “pantheon of 20th century Swiss composers” continues apace with the third release of his orchestral works, with the excellent Bournemouth Symphony conducted by the composer’s grandson Marc Andreae. The Symphony in F was composed when he was just 20 and was his first large-scale orchestral work. Its debt to Brahms is undeniable, but it also shows the Wagnerian influence of Andreae’s teacher Franz Wüllner, who premiered Das Rheingold and Die Walküre. Andreae is best known for his recordings of the Bruckner symphonies and it is obvious from this early work that he has studied the Austrian master’s command of symphonic structure. Andreae was offered to succeed Mahler as conductor of the New York Philharmonic but preferred to stay with the Tonhalle Orchestra Zürich. However, like Mahler he did compose some settings of poems by Li-Po after Hermann Hesse pointed out the Tang dynasty poet’s works. Li-Tai-Pe, here beautifully sung by English tenor Benjamin Hulett, is the jewel in the crown of this album. The eight songs are worth the purchase price alone. However John Anderson’s performance of the Concertino for Oboe and Orchestra is definitely an added bonus. In all,…

May 11, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Brahms: Piano Works Volume 3 (Douglas)

At the risk of being flippant, male pianists seem to divide into two groups, judging by their album covers – those with fashionable stubble and those with cleanly shaved jowls. Barry Douglas and Jonathan Plowright both fall into the former category, and this might seem an irrelevance were it not for the fact that both are in the middle of their Brahms projects and both have new volumes out now. Both tackle the Sonata No 2 Op. 2 on their latest releases, giving us an opportunity to compare their very different approaches. Plowright’s recording was reviewed last month and I have to say that I prefer his nuanced and “cooler” reading over the Irishman’s more heated interpretation. Douglas, though, does bring a sense of excitement to the Lisztian outer movements. The Chandos team produces a warmer and more immediate sound than the elegant precision of the Swedes at BIS, so that may influence your choice. Douglas knows how to balance a program, placing the sonata last after the delightful 16 Waltzes Op. 39, alongside intermezzos – two from Op. 119, one from Op. 116 – and the solemn and majestic Theme with Variations taken from his string sextet and dedicated,…

April 20, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Amorosi Pensieri (Cinquecento Renaissance Vokal)

For the past ten years Cinquecento have been carving themselves a niche in the specialised field of pre-Baroque sacred works, and madrigals by composers whom most of us have never encountered. Formed in Vienna and based in Germany, the group comprises six singers from five countries. For their eighth release on the British Hyperion label Cinquecento revisits three 16th-century Flemish singer-composers, Philippe del Monte, Jacobus Vaet and Jacob Regnart, this time performing their secular songs, and introduce us to a previously unknown composer. Not much is chronicled about Jean Guyot de Chatelet (Joannes Castileti), other than that he served briefly as Kapellmeister to Emperor Ferdinand I before returning to his home in Liege. However Guyot is not afraid to express his feelings, hence: “Instead of happy distractions, melancholy attacks me/I am bound by the ties of love/discipline holds me harshly prisoner”. Or his song about Susanne who has to fend off two dirty old men to preserve her innocence. These songs have all the colour and earthy life of the contemporaneous paintings of Pieter Brueghel and his sons and they sit well with the sextet’s pleasing vocal blend. Recorded at the Deutschlandfunk’s chamber music studio in Cologne, the program mixes…

April 16, 2015