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CARLO SABAJNO

Born into a family of landowners, Carlo Sabajno served as Toscanini’s assistant during the latter’s period as chief conductor at Turin and also conducted there himself. In 1904 he was engaged by Fred Gaisberg as The Gramophone Company’s Italian house conductor (an appointment which was in effect the equivalent of the ‘Artists and Repertoire’ manager of later years) with responsibility for all aspects of production, such as the selection of repertoire and the engagement of artists, in addition to actually conducting in the studio: in France the conductor Piero Coppola held a similar position. Sabajno devoted himself to the nascent recording industry and seems subsequently to have conducted little if at all in the concert hall or opera house. He did however compose a little, writing songs especially for the gramophone.

For The Gramophone Company Sabajno conducted numerous complete recordings of operas,  starting with Verdi’s Ernani in 1904 and Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci in 1907 (although the latter may in fact have been conducted by its composer) and concluding with Verdi’s Otello in 1932. He recorded Rigoletto twice, in 1917 and 1927, and also left notable accounts of Donizetti’s Don Pasquale with Tito Schipa, and of Verdi’s Aida with Toscanini’s favourite tenor Aureliano Pertile. He was also credited with conducting the complete recording of Il trovatore with Pertile, although much of this was actually conducted by Gino Nastrucci. In addition to these and many other complete opera recordings Sabajno accompanied the leading singers of the day, such as Beniamino Gigli, in numerous operatic arias, and conducted several short operatic and orchestral works. The latter included several overtures and orchestral excerpts from Wagner’s operas, including the Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde, as well as the prelude to Catalani’s opera Edmea, Chabrier’s España, Mascagni’s Danza esotica, the overture to Massenet’s Le Roi de Lahore, the Nocturne and Wedding March from Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the overture to Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte.

Evidently not an easy man to get on with, Sabajno had a reputation for a fiery temper; but Gaisberg, who knew him well, described him as ‘…gifted with sharp intelligence, and when one worked with him one understood that every single gesture had a reason.’ Certainly several of his recordings, most of which were made with the Orchestra of La Scala, Milan at a time when Toscanini was musical director there, have stood the test of time. Gaisberg considered Sabajno’s account of Aida to be the pinnacle of his recording work, and it continues to feature in the catalogue.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Conductors, Naxos 8.558087–90).


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