Steve Moffatt

Steve Moffatt

Steve Moffatt’s earliest musical memories are of his father’s dubious tenor accompanying 78s of Gigli and Björling. As a local newspaper reporter in London, he covered Jimi Hendrix’s inquest. Now retired, he reviews concerts for Limelight and NewsLocal newspapers, where he worked as production editor.


Articles by Steve Moffatt

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: Chopin: Études (Lisiecki)

Young pianist Jan Lisiecki has been studying at the Glenn Gould School of Music in Toronto and it seems the Canadian genius’s flair and sense of adventure has rubbed off on the 18-year-old. When Deutsche Grammophon decided to record Chopin’s Études as a follow-up to his debut album of Mozart’s Piano Concertos Nos 20 and 21, the Calgary-born youngster felt firmly on home ground. He had already recorded Chopin’s Piano Concertos in F and E Minor in Poland for the Fryderyk Chopin Institute and has a natural affinity for the music. What showed Gould-like daring however was his decision to do each of the 24 pieces in one take. Not only that but he would warm up before each take by playing something completely different – a Bach Goldberg Variation or a little Messiaen. “That would change the mood, in the same way as a different piece would in a live performance,” Lisiecki says.  This latest disc shows why he was so quickly snapped up by the German label. Lisiecki’s touch is light and fluid, much like Chopin’s was reported to be by his contemporaries. He manages a mysterious, distant feel in the Op 10, No 6, but still with…

August 29, 2013
CD and Other Review

Review: Berlioz: Overtures (Bergen Philharmonic)

It’s easy to see why Berlioz’s overtures are among the most consistently popular symphonic pieces with audiences young and old. With vividly orchestrated melodies that linger in the memory, dramatic shifts of mood and high-octane rhythms, they are irresistible. This collection, featuring the Bergen Philharmonic conducted by Englishman Sir Andrew Davis, is like listening to a roll call of old favourites. It starts with a bang – the whirlwind intro to Le Corsaire – and finishes with the great rolling finale to Benvenuto Cellini. On the way it takes in two stalwarts in Les Francs-Juges and Le Carnaval Romaine, the Shakespearean sweep of Le Roi Lear, the Scottish political romance of Waverly and the comic interplay of Beatrice and Benedict. Davis controls all of this with a master’s touch and the orchestra responds in kind. The SACD recording compares favourably with older standbys like Colin Davis’s Staatskapelle Dresden performances and Adrian Boult’s 1950s versions with the LPO.

August 29, 2013
CD and Other Review

Review: Brahms, R & C Schumann: Violin Sonatas (Pike, Poster)

    Former child prodigy Jennifer Pike, who stunned the music world by winning the BBC Musician of the Year competition at the age of 12 performing Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, has matured into one of the major talents of her generation. At just 23, and after studies at Oxford University, the English virtuoso impresses again with the latest in her growing discography. Accompanied by Scottish pianist Tom Poster, Pike’s 1708 Goffriller instrument sings sweetly on this beautiful and intimate program. From the hauntingly lovely opening bars of the Brahms Sonata the listener knows they are in for special treat. Pike’s phrasing throughout is full and mature – never hurried, never over the top – but with beautiful lines and pitch-perfect intonation. She and Poster enjoy a warm symbiosis which is entirely apt for the works of three composers who were locked together by fate. The interplay between the two in the Allegretto of Robert’s Sonata is a feature. Pike lingers just long enough on the sustained notes that lead into the playful passages. The disc is neatly rounded off by Three Romances by Clara. Much has been made of her abilities as a pianist and teacher – admired by Chopin, Liszt and…

August 22, 2013
CD and Other Review

Review: Verdi, Wolff, Piazzola: Various (Brodsky Quartet)

The legendary Brodsky Quartet – truly one of the great string quartets of our time – is currently headed to Sydney for a mid-winter feast of Shostakovich in the Sydney Opera House Utzon Room in July (performing the marathon feat of all 15 of the Russian master’s thrillingly enigmatic quartets). By way of complete contrast this
latest release from the Brits shows the group resolutely packing its buckets and spades and heading to the Mediterranean – with
a side trip to Argentina – as if intent upon their summer hols. The trip gets under way with
Hugo Wolff’s Italian Serenade, which with its racing rhythms and strong melodies is like a train trip through the Tuscan countryside. Puccini’s moving Crisantemi, on the
other hand, is an elegiac piece, written in a single sweep over the course of one night, having heard of the death of King Umberto I’s brother, the Duke of Aosta. The opera composer was so pleased with his rare venture into the mysterious realm of chamber music that he recycled it in the tragic fourth act of Manon Lescaut. Another great Italian opera composer, Giuseppe Verdi no less, also decided to have a crack at string quartet writing, believing that the…

August 8, 2013
CD and Other Review

Review: Mozart: Oboe Concerto, Quartet, Sonata (Ogrintchouk)

Those lucky enough to see and hear the Royal Concertgebouw in Sydney at the end of this year should pay particular attention when the oboe sounds the A for the big tune-up. The man producing that note will be Alexei Ogrintchouk. It might be his only solo moment for the evening, but make no mistake: this is no ordinary oboist. The 27-year-old Russian virtuoso has been steadily building an outstanding reputation as one of the leading exponents of the instrument over the past eight years with a notable series of concerts and recordings, the latest of which is this exuberant triptych of works by Mozart at his most irresistible. The centerpiece, of course, is the concerto Mozart dedicated to his friend Friedrich Ramm, oboist with the leading orchestra of his day in Mannheim, but equally delightful is the charming and engaging quartet the composer wrote for Ramm later on. Ogrintchouk is joined by the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra in this recording on the prestige Swedish label BIS. It’s a work where Mozart is bursting with ideas – especially in the final movement where you can almost sense the composer’s excitement about his new creation. Ogrintchouk’s technique and phrasing is matchless throughout…

August 1, 2013
CD and Other Review

Review: JS Bach: Violin Concertos (Müllejans, von der Goltz)

How to breathe new life into works as familiar and well covered as Bach’s violin concertos? The answer, seemingly, is to change the usual batting order and to reinvent a fourth concerto that gives depth to your line-up, something which is sorely lacking in our Baggy Greens at the moment. Most recordings start off with the two famous solo concertos – the E Major BWV1042 and the A Minor BWV1041 – and end with the double concerto. They may throw in the less familiar G-Minor transcription from the BWV1056 harpsichord concerto to give full value for money. This lovely recording by Freiburger Barockorchester starts with the double, perhaps to showcase its two equally talented concertmasters Petra Müllejans and Gottfried von der Goltz, but then puts the cream on the cake with its reconstructed version of the concerto for three harpsichords BWV1064. Anna Katharina Schreiber is the third soloist in a work that requires a high degree of virtuosity from all three players, especially in the outer movements. It’s generally believed that the work was originally composed for violins, and it certainly suits the instrument with some exciting overlapping runs in the outer movements. The orchestra all play on period instruments…

June 26, 2013
CD and Other Review

Review: Smoke Encrypted Whispers: Poems by Samuel Wagan Watson

Aboriginal poet Samuel Wagan Watson first became aware of segregation when, as a young boy standing on the “steamy Bjelke- Petersen plateau”, he saw the black and white smoke rising from Brisbane below – black from the blue-collar battlers in their fibros and white from the white-collar class with their European cars and “chez nouveau’’ fireplaces. The metaphor permeates the 23 short poems Smoke Encrypted Whispers, which won him the Book of the Year award and Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry in 2005. The beautifully crafted miniatures evoke childhood memories, fear of the dark, unforgettable descriptions of places like Tigerland and Boundary Street – named to mark the Brisbane curfew zone for Aborigines in his grandparents’ time – and visits from uncles 
who taught him traditional 
ways. Watson also gives some fascinating insights into his writing process as well as musing on visits to Berlin and a Maori marae in Wellington. Brevity is the source of wit for Watson, and also for Queensland- based Southern Cross Soloists
led by clarinetist Paul Dean,
who commissioned 23 Brisbane composers to write two-minute pieces to respond to the poems. The result is stunningly good. At the heart of this handsomely produced 80-minute album are five…

June 20, 2013
CD and Other Review

Review: Brundibar: Music from Theresienstadt (1941-1943)

The excellent British outfit The Nash Ensemble have released an important and superbly recorded new album of works by four Jewish Czech composers – Pavel Haas, Viktor Ullman, Hans Krása and Gideon Klein – who were all killed in Nazi concentration camps. They were part of the rich cultural life of the Theresienstadt ghetto, an old garrison from the Hapsburg Empire created as a way station for Jews being sent on to the death camps. Although the listener will be appalled by what happened to these four Czechs, all of whom were sent on to Auschwitz on the same transport, the music itself is curiously free of the poignancy and despair of their situation.
 As Ullman said of that time: “Theresienstadt has served to enhance, not impede, my musical activities, that by no means did we sit weeping by the waters of Babylon and our will to create was equal to our will to survive.” Krása’s suite from his delightful children’s opera Brundibar (Bumblebee) is given its first performance here in David Matthews’ version for string quartet, piano, flute, clarinet, trumpet and percussion. Its mood varies between the magic of Ravel and sparkling humour of Poulenc. Ullman studied with Schoenberg…

June 12, 2013