Antonio Janigro was born into a musical family which had been touched by tragedy: his mother was a professional violinist, but his father, who had wanted to be a concert pianist, had lost his left arm to a sniper in World War I. He himself began to learn the piano at the age of six but two years later, having been given a cello by Giovanni Berti who also gave him his first lessons on it, he fell immediately in love with the instrument. At this, his father told him: ‘Either you will be a dedicated artist, worthy of the name, or you will be a mere amateur musician, playing for your own amusement, in which case you will become a barrister like both your grandfathers. You must decide now before it is too late.’ Janigro followed the path of the dedicated musician, and in less than a year he had progressed enough to be admitted to the Verdi Conservatory in Milan, where he studied cello with Gilberto Crepax, the principal cellist of the Orchestra of La Scala.
Through his mother, Janigro was given the opportunity in 1929 to play for Pablo Casals. Greatly impressed, Casals recommended him to Diran Alexanian, who taught Casals’s classes at the École Normale in Paris from 1921 to 1937, and wrote of him: ‘A brilliant instrumentalist with a fine sense of style, and, I hope, sufficiently determined, he should become a shining exponent of our chosen instrument.’ However it was not until 1934 that Janigro went to Paris, where he lived in a YMCA; here he practised ceaselessly for two years, and came into contact with other great musicians such as Nadia Boulanger, Cortot, Dukas, Stravinsky and Thibaud; among his fellow students were Dinu Lipatti and Ginette Neveu. Janigro synthesised the best features of the Italian and French schools of cello playing. Although he was offered a scholarship by the Italian government, being an anti-Fascist he decided to remain in Paris.
As soon as he had graduated in 1937 Janigro embarked on a solo career, playing in recitals with Dinu Lipatti. He often travelled between Milan and Paris by train, and would practise his cello in any compartment that might be empty. While playing in this way on a rail journey, he was heard by a music agent, who arranged for the young cellist to give concerts in France. When World War II broke out Janigro was on holiday in Croatia and was thus compelled to remain there, but fortunately the Zagreb Conservatory of Music offered him a job as professor of cello and chamber music. As a result he founded the modern Yugoslav school of cello playing, and together with cellist Rudolf Matz he also started a cello club and organized two cello congresses. After the war Janigro resumed his international career as a soloist, travelling extensively in South America and the Far East. He formed a successful trio with pianist Paul Badura-Skoda and violinist Jean Fournier, with whom he recorded extensively for the Westminster label. For this label he also recorded the complete Beethoven cello sonatas with the pianist Carlo Zecchi. In 1953 he married Neda Nehajev, daughter of a Croatian author, with whom he had two children.
Janigro also began to develop a career as a conductor, having made his debut in this role in 1948. At the invitation of Radio Zagreb he had become the chief conductor of its symphony orchestra in 1954, and from the core of the Zagreb Radio Symphony Orchestra he formed the chamber orchestra I Solisti di Zagreb; with these two groups he made many recordings for the Vanguard label. In addition Janigro appeared with the smaller group on extensive tours, and was soon conducting the major orchestras throughout Europe. He also played the cello part with great distinction in the 1959 RCA Victor recording of Richard Strauss’s Don Quixote with Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Janigro relinquished his post with Radio Zagreb in 1964, and from 1965 was chief conductor of the Milan Angelicum Orchestra. However while conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1967 he suffered a heart attack which compromised his health; he therefore reduced his conducting engagements with larger orchestras, and with the Angelicum Orchestra and I Solisti di Zagreb. From 1968 to 1971 he was conductor of the Saar Radio Chamber Orchestra in Saarbrücken, in succession to Karl Ristenpaart, and from 1971 to 1974 he directed the Salzburg Mozarteum Camerata. Janigro was also active as a teacher, holding posts at the Düsseldorf Conservatory from 1965 to 1974, at the Salzburg Mozarteum from 1971, and at the Stuttgart Conservatory from 1975.
Although Janigro’s recordings as a conductor are considerably fewer than those in which he plays the cello, they are nonetheless of the greatest interest and explain why his conducting career, although short, was distinguished. Probably his finest recordings are those of the six Haydn Sturm und Drang symphonies (Nos 44 to 49), recorded with the Zagreb Radio Symphony Orchestra for Vanguard. These are immensely fiery and energetic readings, in which the orchestral playing is highly accomplished. Using scores edited by Robbins Landon, they did much to awaken interest from the 1960s onwards in the lesser-known Haydn symphonies. With I Solisti di Zagreb Janigro recorded a large repertory drawn from both the Baroque and contemporary epochs, highlights of which included the eight symphonies of Boyce, Vivaldi’s Le quattro stagione, Mozart’s Piano Concertos Nos 9 and 14 with Alfred Brendel (who like Janigro spent the war years in Zagreb), Britten’s Simple Symphony and Webern’s Five Movements for Strings. With the Vienna Festival Orchestra he directed lively performances of Respighi’s La Boutique fantasque and Rossiniana, and with the Saar Radio Chamber Orchestra an early account of Ligeti’s Ramifications. Throughout all these recordings, Janigro’s most musical conducting elicited performances of elegance, vigour and, where appropriate, sheer joie de vivre.