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Elgar Violin Concerto

Reviewed Friday, Nov. 25, at Symphony Hall, Phoenix

Violinist Steven Moeckel played the Elgar Violin Concerto this week. It is a concerto he was born to play, and, as the sports announcers like to say, he left it all out on the field.

It was clear that this wasn’t merely a case of a soloist signed to play with an orchestra, learning a concerto and performing it; this was an artist who has longed to play the vast, 50-minute work since he was a young man, and he now gets a chance not merely to play it, but to descend into it, live it, and turn it inside out, searching every corner for meaning and — dare we say it? — beauty. Sheer physical beauty.

To extend the sports metaphor, when Moeckel came back onstage during intermission for the usual soloist’s chat with conductor Michael Christie, he looked as if he’d gone 10 rounds with Sonny Liston. All that was missing was a towel draped around his neck.

Classical-music lovers live for such performances: lashed-to-the-mast, winner-take-all playing of music that has something important to say to us. Anyone taking the full ride with Elgar and with Moeckel was likely to be worn out, too. A good worn out, like the feeling you get from an honest day’s work.

The concerto itself has a huge first movement, full of vigor but also full of lyricism. It set up an Andante second movement that floated gently toward heaven, bursting with ripeness like a fallen persimmon; it was the high-water mark of beauty — the kind of Edwardian turn-of-the-century beauty that foresees its own demise in the coming century.

It is followed by an immense Allegro molto that for two-thirds of its length is a virtuoso workout, but culminates in the emotional high-point of the work, a 10-minute cadenza, accompanied lightly by the orchestra, in which the soloist, having brazenly shown off his extroverted self, turns inward and private, in some of the most confidential passages in music.

Moeckel understood every cranny of the music and played with perfect confidence and all the flexibility that Elgar’s shifting score requires. Christie and the orchestra followed perfectly, allowing breathing where necessary and moving forward emphatically when called for.

It was a powerful experience, and made some wish every concert could feature only music its players felt compelled to play.

The difference between a good concert and a great concert is having both music and musicians with something to say, and a sense of urgency in bringing us the message. Elgar and Moeckel make a perfect team.

Moeckel, who has a day job as concertmaster of the Phoenix Symphony, also used the event to release his latest CD, a performance of the Elgar and Richard Strauss violin sonatas with his musical partner, pianist Paula Fan.

The passion and commitment shown in the live concerto shows up in both recorded sonatas as well, in an excellent recording of rarely played late-Romantic violin sonatas.

Phoenix Symphony soloist knocks it out of the park

by Richard Nilsen – Mar. 25, 2011

The Arizona Republic

Sometimes it only takes a single piece of music in a concert program to make the whole thing memorable. Sometimes, even just one movement can make it all worthwhile.

This week, Phoenix Symphony concertmaster Steven Moeckel played solo and conducted Mozart’s “Haffner Serenade,” K. 250, and played with such delicacy, taste and musicality, that it completely outweighed the more pedestrian portions of the program. It was especially in the Andante of the serenade that his astonishing music making came through, including an especially beautiful cadenza, double-stops and all. It was as close to perfect as this life allows.

Concertmasters get a bad reputation: “He played the concerto like a concertmaster” is a terrible and condescending thing to say. But Moeckel played his solos like a great musician. There was no hesitance, no pedantry, and a beautiful tone. And best, it was perfectly phrased: lingering here, jumping forward there, staccato here, legato there. It reminded me that last season, he played the Beethoven Concerto with the symphony and gave the best performance of it I ever heard live. But it wasn’t just the Andante: He raced at full speed through the catchy Rondo that served as the finale on Friday’s “Morning Coffee Concert,” an abbreviated presentation of the week’s program. It is music-making like this that makes the best argument for classical music.

2005 Sibelius International Violin Competition

“German-American Steven Moeckel played Sibelius’ Humoresques easily, which made an emotional impact on the audience; here is a real ‘Sibelian’. Moeckel is able to play all the violin’s frolics of the Humoresques with facility and he also understands Sibelius’ sense of humor.”

“Moeckel had his own accompanist with him and that showed in his Mozart performance, which was one of the best chamber music performances of the competition….Monumentality isn’t Moeckel’s style in Bach. The lively long lines were created with a light touch and the fugue’s imitations were in fact inspired dialogue and not overly serious.”

“…his playing was spunky, sharp and temperamental. His style is not about solistically big gestures, it’s mostly light and agile.”

Helsingin Sanomat (December 2005)

Beethoven Violin Concerto

“Relaxed, introspective and detailed to the most minute element, Moeckel’s realization captured the work’s Mozartean beauty and romantic scope. Overall, one had to be impressed with the lyricism, intellect, and smoldering beauty of the reading. In a word, it was exquisite.”
Tucson Citizen (March 22, 2004)

Berg Violin Concerto

“The High Point: Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto with soloist Steven Moeckel
Moeckel played with technical mastery and interpretive depth…Impressive.”
Südwest Presse (July 14, 2005)

Elgar Violin Concerto

“[Moeckel] performed it Thursday night with elegance and exquisite technical proficiency.”
Arizona Daily Star (May 12, 2007)

“Elgar’s Violin Concerto is in fact a lyrical symphony for violin and orchestra, and Steven Moeckel immersed himself in its many hued Romanticism with an astonishing sense of balance, always finding repose for the moments of poetry.”
Südwest Presse (December 20, 2001)

“His breathtaking technique enables him to achieve the highest level of violin artistry, flawlessly and beyond reproach.”
Neu-Ulmer Zeitung

Mozart Violin Concerto No. 1

“…Moeckel nailed every stylistic challenge put forth- from the extended, lush solo turn in the middle to the simple and playful exchange between the soloist and the orchestra in the first and third movements.”
Arizona Daily Star (February 4, 2006)

Prokofiev Violin Sonata in F minor

“The violin sonata in f minor…emotionally charged and full of conviction…intimately and most sensitively played.”
Südwest Presse (November, 1999)

Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto

“Words cannot describe (his) brilliance, expression, energy and passion.”
Schwäbische Zeitung (May 15, 1997)

“Steven Moeckel captivated the audience with his effortless mastery of virtuoso technique interspersed with velvet toned melodies.”
Schwäbische Zeitung

Duo Amabile

“Refined musical sensitivity and impressive technical resolve shone forth in the recital of German-American violinist Steven Moeckel. Pianist Paula Fan was no less artistic and equally as exquisite as the duo forged agile and beautiful interpretations in the Suite Popular of Manuel de Falla. They also offered a passionate and vigorous interpretation of Edward Elgar’s Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 82.”

Costa Rica News (2008)

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