Now what is a “house” conductor? Usually a musician who works or worked exclusively in radio, or recordings, and likely had administrative duties as well, such as Piero Coppola who ran the artistic side of French HMV in the Thirties besides presiding over many recordings. There’s a temptation to look down on “house” maestri as second-class musical citizens, generic hacks turning up too often on one’s turntable instead of bigger names. But that sort of thinking is, generally, so much rubbish. Look at Frank Black, an estimable employee at Radio City who was immortalized in a Broadway song as “Dr. Black of NBC.”

Coppola turned out some fabulous recordings as we shall see. And so did Cavalière Lorenzo Molajoli, about whom not a great deal is known except that he conducted a shelf-buckling batch of complete opera recordings in Milan around 1930, using La Scala forces including in some cases singers with styles so earthy and hot they seem the vocalistical equivalent of a bleeding Gorgonzola or a bubbling Eggpant Parmigiana. As Canio the vibrant tenore robusto Francesco Merli (later a famous phonographic Calaf) comes on as an Italian James King; the dramatically keen Carlo Galeffi doing Tonio seems in timbre rather a Mediterranean Robert Weede.

Molajoli had style, he knew how to shoot to the essence of an opera in a few seconds — I’m thinking of the pathétique opening of his La Gioconda, the mocking descent to those plaintive horns early on in I Pagliacci, the rich and snappily macho launch of Il Trovatore, the poise and urgency with which he invites us into Mefistofele. And how he could keep a recording going as if it were a “live” performance, vaulting over those side breaks which occurred in the studio like the wrath of an angry god every four minutes. In his brio and fluidity Molajoli rather reminds of Francesco Molinari-Pradelli, a vinyl-era conductor who didn’t have to worry about the challenges of 78rpm.

My favorite Molajoli detail occurs in Trovatore act 1 scene 2, it’s those innocent portato eighth note chords before Leonora’s Tacea la Notte to which he gives a verve but a sense of futility as well. This dour underpinning to Leonora’s lovelorn melodizing is obviously the work of her duenna Inez who’s warning her: Forget that tenor, I don’t care how charming he is, he’s bad medicine.