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The Waghalter Website

Ignatz WAGHALTER (1881-1949)
String Quartet in D major, Op.3 (1901) [28:43]*
Notturno for Violoncello and Piano, Op.4 (1902) [4:53]**
Sonata in F minor for Violin and Piano, Op.5 (1902) [25:32]***
Two Pieces for Violin with Piano Accompaniment, Op.14 (1908):
Idyll [4:12]***
Geständnis [3:13]***
Detroit-Windsor Chamber Ensemble: *Lillian Scheirich (violin), Velda Kelly (violin), James Greer (viola), Nadine Deleury (cello); ** Nadine Deleury (cello), Mary Siciliano (piano); ***Lilian Scheirich (violin), Mary Siciliano (piano)
rec. Solid Sound, Ann Arbor, Michigan, no date given.
DWG MUSIC 101 [66:38]

The sad story of Ignatz Waghalter follows, unfortunately, a dreadfully familiar pattern.
He was the fifteenth of twenty children in a Jewish family living in some poverty in Warsaw. Both of his parents were musicians as were other members of his extended family. The teenage Waghalter made his way illegally into Germany, seeking to further his own musical career. The support of Joseph Joachim was invaluable to him, and he studied with Friedrich Gernsheim at the Academy of Art in Berlin. Relatively early he began to make his way as a conductor. He worked for five years at the Komische Oper in Berlin, learning from Artur Nikisch. After a short spell in Essen, he was back in Berlin, at the age of 31, as Principal Conductor at a new opera house, the Deutsches Opernhaus, in Charlottenburg. He championed the work of Puccini, whose operas had hitherto met with very little success in Germany. He conducted the German premiere of La Fanciulla del West – and the result was a major success. Later that year a performance of Manon Lescaut was similarly triumphant. He went on to conduct German premieres of La Bohéme and Tosca. He also conducted the German premiere of Vaughan Williams’ A London Symphony.
Waghalter’s own work as an operatic composer began with his Mandragola, premiered in 1914. Plans for a European tour of Mandragola were destroyed by the outbreak of war. His next opera, Jugend was first performed in 1917, attracting great praise, especially for the quality of its melodies. Such virtues were not, of course, the ones most likely to win favour in advanced German musical circles. Perhaps his success would not have lasted, for that reason alone. But other, obvious factors came into play.
As a Polish Jew who had achieved a certain prominence in German musical life, Waghalter inevitably became a figure of suspicion. His third opera, Santaniel (1923) met with altogether less favour, as the political climate changed. The inflationary crisis led to serious problems for the Deutsches Opernhaus. Waghalter left Berlin, moving to New York. He worked – very successfully – as a guest conductor with the New York State Symphony Orchestra and became its Principal Conductor and Musical Director in 1924. But he did not feel at home in America and chose to return to Germany. He made a number of recordings; worked as a guest conductor in Germany and elsewhere (including the Bolshoi in 1931). He moved in distinguished circles: his friends included Hindemith and Weill, Josef Hoffman and Leopold Godowsky, Richard Tauber and a certain Albert Einstein, who often played chamber music – as a violinist – with Waghalter in the Waghalter’s apartment at 55 Konstanzer Strasse. The rise of the Nazis brought all this to an end. Waghalter and his wife fled to Czechoslovakia in 1934, and then spent some time in Vienna, escaping from there just before the Anschluss. He returned to the U.S.A., but this time found relatively little in the way of employment or attention. He continued to compose, but was outside the mainstream of musical life. He died of a heart attack in New York.
He seems to have been generally forgotten in the years following his death. But there are signs of renewed attention. In 1981 the Deutsche Oper celebrated the centenary of his birth, placing a bust of Waghalter amongst those of other distinguished conductors and in 1989 giving a concert performance of his Jugend.
So far as I know, this new CD of early works is the first to be devoted to Waghalter’s music. The String Quartet is a thoroughly attractive piece, especially considering the youthfulness of its composer. It is rich in attractive melodies, the writing lush but uncloying. There is music of great delicacy and poignancy in its adagio and the closing allegretto has real charm. I notice that my 1930 edition of Cobbett’s Cyclopedic Survey of Chamber Music, in a very brief entry on Waghalter describes the quartet as “appealing to the ear in a very attractive manner” - which is very true. It goes on to say that it is “to be recommended to the dilettante performer”. It can also be recommended to listeners with a fondness for the late-romantic idiom. It gets an affectionate and persuasive performance here.
The Notturno is an elegant and lyrical salon-piece – at least the equal of many that are better known. The Violin Sonata, at least on the evidence of this performance, is somewhat less compelling than the string quartet, rather more meandering and a little languid, although there are, once again, some very attractive melodies. The two short pieces for violin and piano which make up Waghalter’s Op. 8 have a distinctively Slavic-Jewish melancholy very much of their tradition and their period.
Given that all of these are youthful works, one’s appetite is definitely whetted for the chance to hear some of Waghalter’s more mature works. The presentation of this CD is very well handled. The notes are helpful, and there are fascinating photographs of the youthful Waghalter, of Waghalter the conductor, alongside Puccini, and with the Orchestra of the Deutsches Opernhaus, as well as of Waghalter in New York in 1945.

Glyn Pursglove



The Waghalter Website


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