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Alceo Galleria conducts R. STRAUSS, WAGNER, DVORAK, RIMSKY-KORSAKOV, TCHIAKOVSKY, ROSSINI – Opus Kura (2 CDs)

Alceo Galleria, conductor = R. STRAUSS: Don Juan, Op. 20; WAGNER: A Siegfried Idyll; DVORAK: Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 “From the New World”; TCHAIKOVSKY: Capriccio Italien, Op. 45; RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Capriccio Espagnol, Op. 34; ROSSINI: Overtures: Il Signor Bruschino; Semiramide; Italiana in Algeri; La scala di seta; Guillaume Tell – Philharmonia Orch./ Alceo Galliera – Opus Kura OPK 7073/4 (2 CDs) 71:39, 72:59 (9/8/15) [Distr. by Albany] ****:

Alceo Galliera (1910-1996) maintains a solid reputation as a fine “accompanying” conductor to such luminaries as Artur Schnabel, Dinu Lipatti, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, and Arthur Grumiaux, perhaps to the detriment of his outstanding gifts as an orchestral conductor of no mean power. Galliera first came to Walter Legge’s splendid Philharmonia Orchestra of London on 31 May 1946. Immediately Galliera noted the fine response from the Philharmonia woodwind section, and the recordings assembled by Opus Kura (1953-1957) reflect Galliera’s attentiveness to those “happy touches of scoring . . . which are often obscured,” as stated in The Times.

With the exception of the Tchaikovsky Capriccio Italien in my preferred performances by Kempen and Mitropoulos, the Galliera inscription (23 January 1953) enjoys an individual, brashly impetuous energy thoroughly beguiling in character, rife with crisp articulation in the winds and brass. Doubtless, the presence of Dennis Brain in the various French horn parts contributes to the incomparable effect, as in Wagner’s A Siegfried Idyll (28 January 1957), a work in which Brain and the Philharmonia also participated under the direction of Guido Cantelli. With the other Philharmonia wind principals – Gareth Morris, flute and Reginald Kell, clarinet – the Wagner achieves a splendid sheen that no less informs the Strauss Don Juan, recorded on the same day. For the brilliant Capriccio Espagnol (16-17 March 1955) the violin pyrotechnics find ample virtuosity in Manoug Parikian.

The Dvorak New World Symphony (7-8 October 1953) occupies the majority of Disc 1, a performance marked by its dramatic forward motion, much in the optimistic George Szell and Arturo Toscanini tradition. Another recorded competitor at the time – besides the incomparable Vaclav Talich – would be the symphony as directed by Nicolai Malko. The clipped phrases and brash horn entries from Galliera add a potent thrust to the first movement, just as the warm ambiance of Kingsway Hall adds luster to the Largo movement. The moments of chamber music intimacy emerge as resonantly as the fine horn work prior to the haunted middle section. The combination of singing luster and vital momentum informs the last two movements, in which trumpets, French horn, bassoon, triangle and tympani figure in the magic of the scoring.

Each of the 19-21 January 1953 Rossini overtures boasts its own virtues – here five of the original six entries inscribed by Galliera – due to timing limits, the Cenerentola does not find its way into this collection. The deft string work Rossini demands colors all of the overtures, beginning with a witty reading of Il Signor Bruschino, with its col legno effects. L’Italiana in Algeri enjoys fine oboe and flute work. The music’s debts to Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio glow at every cadence. Once more, the French horn work in La Scala di Seta exemplifies legato playing, if you care to guess the player. Galliera directs a controlled series of crescendos, the one orchestral effect that literally defines a Rossini overture. While Beecham and Toscanini occupy my “favorites” shelf for the horror-opera Semiramide Overture, Galliera does not skimp on the manic ferocity of the score. The brass and horn work sounds as if the Philharmonia were playing Gabrieli, at least until the battery explodes upon the procession. With the sonorous cello entry of William Tell, we enter a musical realm dominated by Toscanini – but note how much more exactly warm unfolds the playing – early, with the viola’s support – by the Philharmonia Orchestra. A streamlined “storm” sequence that takes its cue from the Beethoven Sixth leads us into a happy valley where we bask, pleasantly awaiting – in spite of ourselves – Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels. We receive a full complement of rip-roaring effects, and I heartily recommend this “sleeper” set by a fine conductor.

—Gary Lemco

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