Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Alexander Walker and the New Russia State Symphony Orchestra provide very fine performances of works by Ignatz Waghalter on a new release from Naxos

Ignatz Waghalter (1881-1949) www.waghalter.com  was born in Warsaw into a musical yet poor Jewish family.  Ignatz’s eldest brother, Henryk, became one of the most important cellists at the Warsaw Conservatory with two other brothers, Joseph and Wladyslaw, achieving prominence as musicians.

Waghalter displayed musical talents at an early age, performing publicly in local music halls, the circus and for wealthy Polish aristocratic and bourgeois families when he was only six years old. At the age of seventeen Waghalter travelled to Berlin where, after a brief period of study with the composer Philipp Scharwenka, he met the great violinist Joseph Joachim who helped him gain admittance to the Academy of Art in Berlin where he studied under Friedrich Gernsheim (1839-1916).

Waghalter’s compositional abilities soon became clear with Joachim giving high praise to his early String Quartet in D major and his Sonata for Violin and Piano receiving the Mendelssohn Prize. Other works from this period were a Violin Concerto, a Rhapsody for Violin and several song cycles.

In 1907 Waghalter secured a post as conductor at the Komische Oper in Berlin, assisting Arthur Nikisch This was followed by a brief tenure at the Stadttheater in Essen before the appointment as principal conductor at the new Deutsche Opernhaus in Berlin established his position as a major figure in German music. Three of Waghalter’s own operas received their premier at the Deutsche Opernhaus.

Waghalter spent some time in the USA in the 1920s where he became musical director of the New York State Symphony for a season before returning to Germany, where he accepted the position of Generalmusikmeister of the film company UFA.

During this time he composed the film score for Hann Walter Kornblum's Wunder der Schöpfung. He also composed several operettas and appeared as a guest conductor. Waghalter was later appointed musical director at the National Opera in Riga, Latvia but, after his return to Berlin his position under the Nazi regime became increasingly difficult forcing him into exile in 1934. After moving to Czechoslovakia, then Austria, Waghalter and his wife fled to the United States.

After his arrival in New York, Waghalter established a classical orchestra of African-American musicians. However, funding was difficult and the project could not be sustained. He occasionally appeared as a guest conductor but died in relative obscurity in New York at the age of sixty eight.

Naxos www.naxos.com issued a recording of Waghalter’s Violin Concerto, Rhapsodie, Violin Sonata, Idyll and Geständnis with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Alexander Walker with Irmina Trynkos (violin) and Giorgi Latsabidze in 2012 (piano) (8.572809).

Now from Naxos www.naxos.com comes a new release with the New Russia State Symphony Orchestra www.nros.ru/nros conducted by Alexander Walker www.alexanderwalker.org featuring Waghalter’s New World Suite, the Overture and Intermezzo from his second opera Mandragola and Masaryk’s Peace March. All are listed as world premiere recordings.


Waghalter’s comic opera Mandragola (1914) is based on a satirical play by Italian Renaissance philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli. Its successful Berlin premiere was attended by Richard Strauss, Ferrucio Busoni and Engelbert Humperdinck. The Overture: Allegro moderato, fliessend opens with a burst of energy before moving quickly forward in a buoyant theme. There are some textural and harmonic subtleties when the music calms but overall this is music of light-hearted joy. The Intermezzo: Allegretto grazioso brings a rather pastoral feel with a lovely cor anglais contribution before a clarinet shares the melody over punctuated strings. There is some distinctive orchestration, particularly in the use of brass, with some lovely instrumental touches.

Waghalter had already met such prominent American composers as Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern and George Gershwin during his earlier visit to the USA. These influences most certainly found their way into his New World Suite (reconstructed by Alexander Walker) (1939/2013) where he includes jazz, vaudeville and cabaret elements.

In ten movements Intrada: Allegretto moderato, fliessend has a lively rhythmic opening, again with some attractive instrumental contributions, before moving through some lovely and, indeed, very American sounding passages. A piano can be heard as a syncopated rhythm appears before the end. In the Intermezzo: Moderato pizzicato strings herald another rhythmic section with brass and woodwind weaving an attractive melody.

The strings bring a flowing melody to Hymn and Variations: Moderato assai before a cor anglais adds its texture. Other woodwind combine to take the melody as does the piano before developing into another rhythmic theme for strings over which the woodwind bring flourishes. With the Promenade: Allegro vivo a string rhythm jogs along, over which brass bring the melody, before it is shared around the orchestra. Again there are many attractive details for various instruments including the piano.

Horns open the Idyll and Hornpipe: Andantino before strings join and the melody moves ahead with a muted trumpet and cor anglais taking the theme. There is a staccato string passage with piano before a slow, broader version appears. The tempo picks up with a rhythmic trumpet theme to which the rest of the orchestra join sounding almost like Gilbert and Sullivan operetta such is its light hearted rhythmic, forward moving nature. The Pastorale: Larghetto opens in a rather serious vein but soon lightens as the orchestra weaves around the theme. A cornet brings a lighter, more buoyant theme before moments of thoughtfulness and melancholy contrast with lighter sounds of the brass.

Waghalter brings the same distinctive brass and woodwind sounds to the City Dance: Tempo comodo as the music quickly moves through a number of variations until the strings take the music forward to a rich coda. Vaudeville: Allegro vivo launches a fast moving, rhythmic theme, full of light and jolly instrumental details.

Berceuse: Andante con moto brings a mellow, flowing theme with piano accompaniment that is soon shared by various instruments. Waghalter brings some attractive orchestral textures in this lovely piece, light yes, but very attractive. A trumpet brings a very American sound to the Finale: Allegro.  Waghalter appears to have perfectly assimilated the American popular sound in this lively piece, ranging from rhythmic to flowing with an important piano part before a grand orchestral coda.

Masaryk’s Peace March (1935) was written after Waghalter had fled to Czechoslovakia and was commissioned for the official celebrations of the occasion of the retirement of 1st President of Czechoslovakia, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (1850-1937), an opponent of Fascism. At over ten minutes it is a substantial, very fine occasional piece that shows Waghalter’s talent for providing a longer, more varied work that, nevertheless, is kept within the confines of a rousing march. A really enjoyable piece.

The CD booklet speaks of Waghalter’s desire to write approachable, lively music. That is exactly what is to be found on this new disc.  Alexander Walker and the New Russia State Symphony Orchestra provide very fine performances and are nicely recorded. Music in a lighter vein this may be but it is thoroughly enjoyable.

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