In terms of programming this recital at St John’s Smith Square offered something out of the ordinary. There are not that many concerts these days where the audience is faced with an item of core repertoire, followed by some semi-neglected repertoire by a mainstream composer, a work by a totally neglected composer, and then a final flurry of instrumental fireworks.

Ignatz Waghalter
Ignatz Waghalter

Schumann’s Violin Sonata no. 1 is a work replete with emotional contrasts. Taking the first movement’s indicative marking of “Mit leidenschaftlichem Ausdruck” (“with passionate expression”) at its word, violinist Irmina Trynkos and pianist Giorgi Latsabidze captured much of the ebb and flow within the music with reasonable effectiveness. The second movement Allegretto was for the most part imbued with appropriate serenity to bring out the apparent simplicity of Schumann’s writing. The closing movement was lively in character, as Schumann requires. Irmina Trynkos proved rather insistent on drawing bold solo lines that at times verged on sacrificing the quality of tone she drew from her instrument, whereas Giorgi Latsabidze provided rather more refined support in the accompanying role.

The feeling that a more satisfying overall performance might have been achieved if more attention had been paid to the details continued with the performance of Elgar’s Violin Sonata. Written in 1918, the sonata is one Elgar’s final compositions, along with the Cello Concerto. Unlike the concerto, the sonata has never really established itself as part of the core repertoire, though a number of decent recordings exist and just now several violinists have performances scheduled in their diaries. The appearance of Elgar in the context of a programme filled with continental European composers might at first seem strange, but this should not be so: the European influences on his music are many and several of his most famous works received early performances abroad.

The sonata’s bold opening movement rather continued where the closing thoughts of Schumann had ended, though with intended nobility almost sounding occasionally on the edge of neurotic obsessiveness, such was the unrelentingly gutsy nature of Trynkos’ playing. Alice, the composer’s wife, confided in her diary at the time of composition, “E. writing wonderful new music, different from anything else of his... wood magic. So elusive and delicate.” The remarks seem entirely apt regarding the second movement, with its entirely English sense of passion held very much in restraint. Much in the way of limpidity was brought to bear by Latsabidze in particular, matched for the most part by Trynkos. To my ears at least, the final movement would have benefited from greater variation of approach, even though a a sure grasp of Elgar’s overall form was keenly evident. Here, as elsewhere, the soloist’s pianissimo inferences needed to be more convincingly integrated alongside undoubtedly bravura statements.

Ignatz Waghalter (1881–1949) was a Polish–German composer who is all but forgotten by today’s concertgoers. In his day though he was also a well-respected opera conductor and counted musical luminaries such as Joachim and Puccini as supporters and friends. His Violin Sonata, an early work, received the Mendelssohn Prize in 1902. Together with a violin concerto and other smaller pieces, it features on a new CD on the Naxos label with performances by Trynkos and Latsabidze. The concert programme declared Waghalter a “Lost Romantic” and Michael Hass’ programme note proclaimed him “one of the most unjustly forgotten musicians of pre-1933 Europe, inviting the question: how is it possible that this music went missing for a century?” The answer, certainly on the strength of this concert performance, appears clear. Waghalter’s stock-in-trade lyricism and gift for effectively and carefully crafting his music fell victim both to changes in taste and being overshadowed by the avant-gardes of serialism and atonality.

The sonata’s opening movement (Allegro appasionato) set the scene, seemingly with Bach-like references; the music’s lyricism was muted with a sultry edge that was effectively maintained within Trynkos’ violin line. The second movement is to all intents and purposes where any value lies in unearthing the sonata, with its interweaving of folk-derived thematic material and sustained cantilena. If in overall terms the more earthy side to the music stayed longer in the memory, it was due to the duo’s committed performances. The closing movement proved initially of a fiery disposition, which was nearer Irmina Trynkos’ comfort zone as an artist than the more introspective moments that followed, though the score’s final paragraphs were undoubtedly tackled full-on.

So is Waghalter’s music worthy of more than an occasional performance for the sake of musical completeness? I remained undecided; the real reason lying somewhere between the composition itself and the performance itself. Therein lies the problem: one of the two needed to burn itself indelibly on the memory. It could be however that the sonata was not Waghalter’s finest work, despite its carefully crafted construction. Those curious to give his music a try might consider attending the performance of Waghalter’s violin concerto, the first since 1911, that will take place at Cadogan Hall in London on 14 November.

Wieniawski’s fantasy on Gounod’s Faustian operatic themes still retains its place in the repertoire, being as it is a ready vehicle for violinists to show off their technical prowess. The piano introduction, played with a gloomy sense of foreboding by Latsabidze, quickly proves somewhat misleading once the violin enters to treat the listener to veritable fireworks display of effects. Irmina Trynkos made much of the work’s internal contrasts, bringing out forthright drama in preference to sensuality.

Understandably enough, for their encore Irmina Trynkos and Giorgi Latsabidze returned to the music of Waghalter, playing a morceau de salon of moderate charm entitled Idyll. Consisting largely of a single sweeping gestural theme, played with assurance by both artists, it appeared almost to link the restrained nostalgia of Elgar to the plush opulence of Korngold.

***11