Little is known about the life and career of Lorenzo Molajoli, other than his work associated with the recording industry in Italy during the inter-war years. Born in Rome, he studied there at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia and began his career as a professional musician in 1893. He seems to have been active as an operatic coach in North and South America, South Africa and various provincial Italian opera houses; he was certainly involved in the 1912 season at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, when he wrote to a friend about a dramatic falling-out over the interpretation of Massenet’s Manon between conductor Arturo Toscanini and tenor Giuseppe Anselmi, as well as criticising another conductor of the season, Bernardino Molinari.
Following the introduction of electrical recording in 1925, the British Columbia Graphophone Company embarked on an extensive programme of recording using the new system and commenced recording in Italy in March 1926. Molajoli was engaged by the company as its house conductor, which generally involved the organisation of recording sessions with artists and technicians, decisions about side-breaks and musical cuts, as well as conducting in the studio. Columbia’s programme initially involved only the recording of operatic excerpts, most usually with singers then appearing at Milan’s opera house, La Scala. At the end of 1928 the company decided to embark on the recording of complete operas, using the chorus and orchestra of La Scala. In November of that year Molajoli conducted the first three works in this series, Verdi’s La traviata and Aida, and Puccini’s La Bohème. As a result of the commercial and artistic success of these recordings Columbia decided to continue to record complete operas during the following years. In total twenty operas, either complete or abridged, were captured on wax, despite the downturn in activity in the recording industry following the Wall Street crash of 1929.
Ultimately however this nearly drove Columbia into bankruptcy, for as sales declined it was forced by its bankers to merge with its larger rival The Gramophone Company, whose major label was His Master’s Voice (HMV), to form Electric and Musical Industries (EMI) in 1931. The chairman of The Gramophone Company, industry veteran Alfred Clark, was less than wholly enthusiastic about this change: Columbia was to be seen very much as the junior partner in the new arrangement. It had been in head-to-head competition with The Gramophone Company, which had also used the La Scala forces for its own recordings of complete operas. These had been conducted by its own Italian recording director, Carlo Sabajno, who had been recording for The Gramophone Company since 1905: many record critics of the 1930s took sides on whether they preferred the HMV Sabajnos or the Columbia Molajolis, as their repertoire often overlapped. Molajoli conducted his last recordings for Columbia in 1932. His only recording for another company was of his own arrangement of Vivaldi’s Concerto in A major, which he recorded for HMV with the Orchestra of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia. He died in Milan in 1939.
Molajoli’s conducting is notable for its sure sense of style and unanimity of ensemble, especially between orchestra and singers: classic characteristics of a solid opera professional. Many of his recorded performances possess an enjoyably fiery sense of drama, as well as frequent headlong tempi, which give his readings an engaging and often appropriate sensation of forward propulsion. Although Columbia’s casts are generally held to be on a slightly less exalted level than those employed in the rival HMV recordings, they are never less than wholly competent and in fact frequently much more than this. Occasionally they featured the same casts as those of current La Scala productions, such as in Molajoli’s recording of Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci. Among his most successful recordings are complete accounts of Boito’s Mefistofele, Giordano’s Andrea Chénier, Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, Ponchielli’s La Gioconda, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and Manon Lescaut, and Verdi’s Aida, Falstaff, Il trovatore, La traviata and Rigoletto. His exciting abridged account of Verdi’s Ernani has yet to appear on compact disc.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Conductors, Naxos 8.558087–90).