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: Wagner: Arias (Rutherford, Bergen Philharmonic/Litton)

If you are not all Wagnered out by the blitzkrieg of bicentennial CDs, DVDs and live performances, you might find room on your shelf for one more addition featuring British baritone James Rutherford. He has already sung Sachs (at Bayreuth no less), the Dutchman, Wolfram, Kurwenal and Wotan in Die Walküre, next up is Amfortas. This album is by way of his portfolio. He is joined here by the excellent Bergen Philharmonic under their American principal conductor Andrew Litton who gives the band a good workout in the Overture to The Flying Dutchman and the Prelude to Act III of Die Meistersinger. Indeed, Litton proves himself to be something of an inspired Wagnerian here, constantly generating electricity. Rutherford has a generous vibrato which hopefully won’t develop into an uncontrolled mannerism, but he is alert to the textual nuances and there is dramatic depth aplenty. He clearly shows in the closing track, Wotan’s Abscheid, that he can handle the heavy-duty roles. Recorded last year at the Grieg Hall,in Bergen, the production quality is outstanding as you would expect from Swedish label BIS. Highlights include a lovely O du mein holder Abendstern and two lashings of Hans Sachs where his attention to text really…

April 17, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: Dvořák, Smetana, Suk: Piano Trios (Sitkovetsky Trio)

We’re only just beginning to hear about them in Australia, but the British Sitkovetsky Piano Trio have been steadily collecting rave reviews in Europe and America, even being compared by one reviewer to “the Beaux Arts in their heyday”. That is not a compliment to be given lightly, but if like me you are unable to hear them on their visit here with Musica Viva, this album gives ample backing to the critic’s claim. The trio – violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky, cellist Leonard Elschenbroich and pianist Wu Qian – all met at that great ‘humidicrib’ for British chamber players, the Yehudi Menuhin School in Surrey. They formed back in 2007 and, despite all being established soloists in their own right, they still manage to get together to exploit some of the richest repertoire in the chamber music canon. For their debut album on BIS they chose two great Bohemian works, Dvořák's Trio No 3 in F Minor and Smetana’s G Minor work – both of them outpourings of grief – and the melancholic little gem, Josef Suk’s Elegy, much loved by palm court orchestras. Although both major works were composed in tragic circumstances – Dvořák's when his mother died and Smetana’s after the death of his eldest…

April 17, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: Mozart: Clarinet Concerto et al (Fröst, Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen)

Earlier in the year the Swedish label BIS released a lovely album of Mozart featuring the talented Russian oboist Alexei Ogrintchouk. Now comes the perfect companion with the latest release from clarinet star Martin Fröst. The disc is timed to coincide with Fröst’s return to this country for a tour with the Australian Chamber Orchestra. When he came two seasons ago audiences were knocked out by his virtuosity, which includes circular breathing techniques, as well as his remarkable ability to play and dance at the same time. This limpid quality is perfectly illustrated on this album which combines the popular concerto with the Kegelstatt trio for clarinet, viola and piano and the Allegro for clarinet and string quartet. For the concerto Fröst has chosen the version for basset clarinet, an instrument with additional notes in the lower range. Although the work began life as a concerto for basset horn, Mozart transposed it to A for this special instrument. Fröst recorded the concerto in 2010 on a modern basset clarinet. He uses the more familiar ‘B Flat’ instrument for the other pieces on the disc. Playing is superb throughout, both from the soloist, the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen and the chamber musicians…

April 10, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: Verdi: La Traviata, Aida, Macbeth (Various)

Three of Verdi’s finest for around $40 is good value by most people’s reckoning and this BelAir set would make a welcome inclusion in any opera fan’s library. French soprano Mireille Delunsch is incandescent as the dying Violetta in Peter Mussbach’s noir 2003 Aix Festival La Traviata. Everyone is dressed in black while the blonde heroine palpitates in sequined white like Marilyn Monroe (or is it Catherine Deneuve?). Matthew Polenzani is impressive as Alfredo, sweet toned and secure in the big moments.   Dmitri Tcherniakov’s 2009 Macbeth at L’Opera National de Paris is the standout of this collection. The treatment is simply breathtaking, with a clever use of sets. The cast is top-notch: Greek baritone Dmitris Tilakos is totally convincing and Lithuanian soprano Violeta Urmana sings powerfully and beautifully, descending into bloody madness looking like a deranged Dawn French. The chorus are superb and the great scene in the fourth act where the displaced Scots are shattered by war evokes chilling footage of refugees. Nicolas Joel’s 2007 Zurich Opera production of Aida, on the other hand, evokes the flag-waving of empire. Nina Stemme makes a compelling Aida. Salvatore Licitra, whose death from a brain haemorrhage in 2011 cut short a…

March 26, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: Britten: The Turn Of The Screw (LSO/Farnes)

Sixty years on and Benjamin Britten’s The Turn Of The Screw, based on Henry James’s “eerie and scary” ghost novella, is still as taut and dramatically intriguing as ever. The ambiguities and questions still remain for many: Does the Governess actually witness the spirits of sexual predator Peter Quint and his equally possessive offsider Miss Jessel working their evil on her two young charges Miles and Flora or is it all her own deranged fantasy? Whatever you decide – or even if you want to decide – the plot is as powerful as ever, aided by Britten’s sparse and evocative orchestration and Myfanwy Piper’s concise, erotically charged libretto. The use of 16 variations on a theme, which with its rising and falling tonal patterns resembles a threaded screw is a master-stroke. It drives the action along without pause through the prologue and two acts and you don’t need to watch this ever-tightening drama to be snared, as the London Symphony Orchestra’s new two-disc set on its LSO Live label eloquently attests. Recorded at the Barbican last year, conductor Richard Farnes, his 17 musicians and an exceptional cast never let the tension lag throughout the two hours. English tenor Andrew Kennedy…

March 7, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: Wagner: Parsifal (Orchestre symphonique de la Monnaie/Haenchen)

How to make a spectacle out of Wagner’s last opera Parsifal? There’s the rub. Belgian company La Monnaie called on Italian avant-garde theatre director Romeo Castelluci to lend his vision to this four-hour production. The result is a Kundry dressed in white anorak and gumboots, lashings of nudity and bondage and an albino python, said by Castelluci to represent Wagner’s music, and whose ‘venom’ might be a cure. (Herpetologist’s note: Pythons are not venomous). There’s also a German shepherd dog which occasionally makes an appearance like Inspector Rex on a case. Also in the mix are 300 extras and explicit scenes in the second act where Klingsor’s castle is a cross between an S&M parlour and a gynaecologist’s consulting room. It all looks like a Pilates class gone horribly wrong. Castellucci is known for shocking audiences with violence, nudity and, on occasions, steaming piles of excrement. This was his first operatic venture. It’s difficult to imagine how he would follow this up if invited. The cast, orchestra and chorus are all solid if not exceptional. But then it can’t be easy competing with 300 extras, a dog, a snake and topless dancers with white beehive wigs. The liner notes say…

February 6, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: Wagner: Tristan und Isolde (Glyndebourne Festival Opera)

For the past year the music, life and character of Richard Wagner have been put under the microscope, assessed and reassessed, but no bicentenary survey would be complete without a superlative recording of Tristan und Isolde. Four years ago, Glyndebourne staged it with a predominantly German cast – Torsten Kerl and Anja Kampe as the doomed lovers and baritone Andrzej Dobber as Kurwenal and bass Georg Zeppenfeld as King Mark. Now Glyndebourne Music has released the live performance in a hard cover booklet set and it’s been worth the waiting for. With the London Philharmonic as your house orchestra and the exciting Vladimir Jurowski at the helm you know you are going to be in for a treat and this recording produced, engineered, mixed and edited by Sebastian Chonion will sweep you away. Jurowski’s attention to balance is spot-on and the magnificent sound of the LPO – a band with no discernible weak spots – ensures that the soloists are heard to their full advantage. Kerl’s tenor has a lighter, slightly nasal quality at times but that doesn’t detract at all and the vocal chemistry with the Italian- German Kampe is outstanding. The pair performed Tristan coming off a triumphant season in Fidelio. There…

January 16, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: Beethoven: Sonatas, Concertos, The Diabelli Variations (Willems)

The ABC’s decision to record the complete Beethoven piano sonatas with Australia’s foremost specialist Gerard Willems was launched in the late 1990s and hailed as a first for the country. The three-year project was given an added frisson by Willems’s decision to use pianos built by Aussie Wayne Stuart rather than the ubiquitous Steinway.   Wayne Stuart’s skills as a piano maker were first tested when as a young man he played dance music published by J. Albert and Son at village halls around the country. The upright pianos were in varying states of disrepair and he often had to fix and tune them before the gig. Years later when his piano company in Melbourne wasn’t going anywhere Robert Albert, head of the publishing company, asked Stuart if they could come in on a joint venture. “I was hoping for ages that you would ask me that,” Stuart replied.   A couple of ARIAs later and with burgeoning sales, the next logical step – the five piano concertos – was announced with Willems being joined by Antony Walker conducting Sinfonia Australis, drawn from the cream of our orchestras. In 2010 Willems was back in the Ultimo studio tackling the mighty…

November 14, 2013
CD and Other Review

Review: Liszt, Wagner: Paraphrases (Fisch)

Israeli conductor Asher Fisch is no stranger to our shores, being particularly associated with the West Australia and Adelaide symphony orchestras. A generous helping of his landmark 2004 recording of Richard Wagner’s Ring in Adelaide was recently re-released by Melba Recordings, and Daniel Barenboim’s former conducting protégé features in a new release from that prestige label, albeit as a pianist, performing some of Franz Liszt’s paraphrases from five of Wagner’s operas. As a bonus on this excellent and fascinating disc, Fisch performs three rare, short piano pieces Wagner wrote as thankyous to friends and patrons.   Liszt started championing his future son-in-law in Weimar in the 1840s where he conducted Tannhäuser and Lohengrin. He wrote 14 paraphrases of Wagner excerpts, with varying degrees of fidelity, over the years before the pair famously fell out over Wagner’s affair and subsequent marriage to Liszt’s already-married daughter Cosima.   One can only guess what Wagner must have thought of the liberties “my holy Franz” took with his music in these concert pieces – though the seven featured here are relatively reverential compared with what Liszt did to Verdi on occasions! However, we do know that the younger composer was grateful for the support….

October 10, 2013
CD and Other Review

Review: Brooklyn Rider: A Walking Fire

Dynamic New York outfit Brooklyn Rider have quite a knack of marrying interesting takes on the mainstream canon with new commissions and their own original material. They have released four or five albums so far and the latest, A Walking Fire on the Mercury Classics label, is a cracker. The group – Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen, violins, Nicola Cords, viola, and Eric Jacobsen, cello – play with full-blooded energy but with precision as well. This is immediately apparent from the opening work, Culei, a five-movement piece written for them by Russian-born composer and violist Lev (Ljova) Zhurbin, the son of prominent composer Alexander Zhurbin and the poet Irena Ginzburg. The work was inspired by the late Romanian Gypsy violinist Nicolae Neacsu, leader of Taraf de Haidouks, featured on the Kronos Quartet’s Caravan album. Neacsu’s trademark trick of dragging the bow across the strings for a percussive effect is a feature of the yearning “The Muse” section of the work. Other movements feature the infectious rhythms and blistering solos of the Balkan folk tradition. At the heart of the album is an in-your-ear performance of Bartók’s String Quartet No 2 – one of the more accessible works of the six…

October 3, 2013