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Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
Pini di Roma (1923-4) [19:04]
La Boutique Fantasque (Ballet arranged from piano pieces by Rossini) (1918) [35:40]
Impressioni brasiliane (1928) [18:13]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Alceo Galliera
rec. 22 January 1957 (Pini), 28-29 May 1959 (Boutique), 18-21 March 1955 (Impressioni), Kingsway Hall, London
MEDICI  MM022-2 [73:19]
Experience Classicsonline


Before the war, record companies had “house-conductors”; Sir Landon Ronald in Great Britain, Piero Coppola in France and Carlo Sabajno in Italy spring to mind. After the war, through to the 1960s, there were still “accompanying conductors”, conductors who were adept at collaborating with soloists but who were rarely invited to record on their own account. If you are a collector of vintage concerto recordings by the likes of Schnabel, Gieseking, Lipatti, Haskil, Arrau or Anda, just to stay with pianists, you probably have quite a few conducted by Herbert Menges or Alceo Galliera. You may have just wondered, from time to time, what happened when they conducted symphonies and other orchestral works. Or just possibly, you may not, since the art of these gentlemen was to turn in a good, musicianly job without drawing attention to themselves very much.
 
Alceo Galliera was born in Milan in 1910, son of a composer and organ professor. His first professional appearance as conductor was in Rome in 1941. He held just three permanent appointments during his life, with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (1950-1), the Teatro Carlo Felice of Genoa (1957-60) and the Strasbourg Municipal Orchestra (1964-72). He was admired by Walter Legge who employed him frequently with the Philharmonia in the late 1940s and the 1950s, in concert as well as on record. A few purely orchestral recordings were made, while his operatic experience in Genoa presumably qualified him to direct the Callas/Gobbi “Barbiere”.
 
“Accompanying conductors” lingered on a little longer at Philips, with whom he worked considerably in the 1960s. He shared the conducting of Haebler’s Mozart cycle and set down the Beethoven Concerto with Grumiaux in 1966. The latter re-recorded the Concerto only eight years later with Colin Davis, though the Galliera version had been widely praised. This may be taken as symbolic of the demise of the “accompanying conductor”.
 
Galliera died in 1996. David Patmore’s informative note, from which most of the above comes – a few other sources and an internet trawl provided little I could add – does not say when he retired.  After relinquishing the Strasbourg post he seems to have just quietly faded from view.
 
So what did he have to offer? These three Respighi works all get excellent performances, with fine orchestral playing, lively rhythms, expertly realized colours and well-shaped phrasing. Given that this is hardly great music, what else could you want?
 
Well, for my comparisons in “Pini di Roma” I didn’t go to commercial recordings – obvious ones would be Toscanini and, in early stereo, Reiner – but to two off-the-air tapes from RAI broadcasts under a pair of very great conductors, Vittorio Gui (Rome 1953) and Sergiu Celibidache (Turin 1968). Galliera is lively and brilliant at the start, but Gui is something else, his players are really aflame. There’s a lushness and a feeling of emotional participation to the middle movements. “I pini del Gianicolo”, in particular, build up to an over-the-top splendour reminiscent of the “Hymn to the Sun” from Mascagni’s “Iris”. While in “I pini della Via Appia” he succeeds in not giving away too much too soon, then when the climax comes he pushes the orchestra in a way Galliera doesn’t quite manage.
 
Stretching the orchestra beyond the theoretically possible is the mark of great conducting and this is where the expert Galliera’s limits begin to show.
 
Celibidache was also no stranger to pushing his orchestras beyond the possible. In the first movement he decides to show that this music has a Debussy-like refinement. The players are not aflame but the pointillist interplay of colours has its own fascination, while he really lets fly at the end of this brief piece. The slower movements are not over the top but waft along with a sort of Delian nostalgia. Like Gui, he paces the last movement more artfully than Galliera.
 
It may seem unreasonable to spend most of the review talking about performances other than the one being reviewed, especially when they can’t be bought, but the comparison has enabled me to focus on what Galliera does and doesn’t offer.
 
I had no comparison for “Boutique” and found it very neatly turned, precise with well-sprung rhythms. But this is such flimsy music. Surely, if it’s to be worth really listening to, as opposed to agreeable stuff to encounter at the end-of-pier bandstand, the conductor needs to challenge the orchestra to characterize just that bit more.
 
My only available comparison for “Impressioni brasiliane” didn’t look particularly promising – again off-the-air with the Rome RAI orchestra some time in the 1960s under Armando La Rosa Parodi (1904-1977). Parodi is not a conductor whose name is invoked with baited breath, though collectors of anti-Pavarotti stories might look here – scroll down to nearly the end. It’s interesting that, while Galliera is just slightly brisker than Gui and Celibidache in Pini (Galliera 19:04, Gui 21:22, Celibidache 21:24), there’s a big difference in “Impressioni”, where he takes 18:13 and Parodi spreads to 24:17. I won’t go so far as to say that Parodi stretches the orchestra like the great conductors mentioned above, but in the opening “Tropical Night” he shows the sort of flexibility old-time Italian conductors used to bring to Puccini. He creates a sort of hypnotic undulation. I thought Galliera’s more literal performance very nice, but Parodi made me want to go on listening for ever. Parodi’s serpents in the second piece are lewder, more threatening, while in the last he finds space for some naughty inflections to the dance rhythms. Galliera plays them straighter.
 
I realize I’m again not being very helpful in preferring a performance that’s unlikely ever to become available. However, the comparison has enabled me to show that Galliera, even when measured against a half-forgotten conductor whom nobody ever rated as “great”, emerges only as a skilled but slightly anonymous practitioner. 
 
“Boutique” is in good, atmospheric stereo. The stereo spread in “Pini” is more limited; at the beginning, for example, the glockenspiel is on the far right but everything else comes from the centre. “Impressioni” is in goodish mono.
 
Christopher Howell

see also review by Kevin Sutton

 



 


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