PIERO COPPOLA

1888-1971

When the fabled recording producer Fred Gaisberg first experienced the conducting talents of young John Barbirolli, who went on to become quite celebrated indeed, he hailed him as “the English Coppola.” That ebullient imprimatur referred to a very dimly remembered musician who was, in the Twenties and Thirties, the musical director of French HMV. This Piero Coppola, who may have been a very distant cousin of the film figure Francis Ford Coppola, and that fellow’s father the NBC Symphony  flutist Carmine Coppola, was short, bald, very talented, and shy – which could explain his virtually vanishing into the then backwater of Lausanne musicmaking from 1939 on. Where on earth is he, we juvenile collectors of Coppola’s fairly numerous pre-war recordings wondered in the Forties when he was as invisible as the momentarily stalled-in-his-tracks (or is it off-the-rails?) Otto Klemperer.

The Milan-born Piero Coppola had an epiphany when as a young man he heard Debussy conduct, and that could explain the utter conviction of his Paris recordings of the master’s most popular orchestral works. La Mer in Coppola’s hands is a novelistic thing, alive with danger and beauty. The opening movement of Iberia hangs loose, tension and transparency given equal weight, soul featured over glamour, and the rumble and rumination of the succeeding Perfumes of the Night could not be more vivid. Also for the annals is a Schumann Rhenish Symphony which brings the scherzando element to the fore in a lithe, jubilant performance of an opening movement that tends to sound topheavy if its instrumental furniture isn’t toted carefully to our ears – furniture, this, which Schumann sometimes seems to be juggling not unsuspensefully like a sidewalk “maestro” of airborne oranges and apples. Coppola’s ultra-dramatic Cathedral movement, exploring, groping, fairly bursting with suspense, seems to pump at the feisty pedals of some monumental protest.