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Alfred Piccaver II
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1868)

Don Sebastiano – Deserto in terra
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)

Rigoletto – Questa o quella
Rigoletto – Pardi veder le lagrime
Rigoletto – La donna è mobile
Il Trovatore – Ah si ben mio
Un Ballo in Maschera – Ma se m’è forza perditi
Aida – Celeste Aida
Giacomo MEYERBEER (1791-1864)

L’Africana – O Paradiso!
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)

Faust – Salut demeure chaste et pure
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)

Carmen – La fleur que tu m’avais jetée
Amilcare PONCHIELLI (1834-1886)

La Gioconda – Cielo e mar
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)

Cavalleria rusticana – O Lola
Cavalleria rusticana – Viva il ino
Cavalleria rusticana – Mamma quell vino è generoso
Ruggiero LEONCAVALLO (1857-1919)

I Pagliacci – Vesti la giubba
I Pagliacci – No, Pagliaccio non son
La Bohème – Testa adorata
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)

Manon Lescaut – Donna non vidi mai
La Bohème – Che gelida manina
Tosca – Recondita armonia
Tosca – E lucevan le stele
Madama Butterfly – Addio fiorito asil
La Fanciulla del West – Ch’ella mi creda
Umberto GIORDANO (1867-1948)

Fedora – Amor ti vieta
Alfred Piccaver (tenor) with unnamed accompaniments
Recorded 1923
PREISER 89601 [77.48]


An idol in Vienna, Alfred Piccaver (1884-1958) was born in England, grew up in New York (working in Edison’s laboratories amongst other things; he trained as an electrician), studied singing in Prague and Milan and made his debut in 1907. By 1912 he had a permanent role with the Vienna Court Opera and star status as the local reigning Puccini and Verdi tenor, though he was equally admired in the French repertoire and in some Wagner. He retired in 1937 and moved back to his home country just before the start of World War II. But Vienna loves its tenors, as I witnessed during the Jan Kiepura celebrations a year or two ago when every other shop seemed to be plastered with Kiepura’s beaming face, and the lure was too strong for Piccaver who spent his final years there, dying in 1958.

This is the second in Preiser’s Piccaver series and gives us twenty-four sides made in 1923. The quality of the original Grammophons is high and the remastering has extracted an excellent amount of detail from what were, in any case, well-engineered discs. The voice is forward and always perfectly audible. Piccaver first recorded in 1912 and his earliest sides find him in freshest voice, exercising his sovereign legato and remarkable breath control with allied beauty of tone. Twenty years later, when he made his last series, the voice was subject to frailty but in 1923 it was still a flexible and rather beautiful instrument. So here we catch him, albeit recorded acoustically, in full voice without many attendant technical failings.

His Donizetti is forthright and bold and in Verdi’s Pardi veder le lagrime we can hear his famous mezza voce. This is a good example of his art but it’s programmed next to La donna è mobile (recorded at another session going by the matrix numbers that Preiser routinely gives – not all reissue companies show such consideration). The latter features something of a besetting sin of Piccaver’s as exemplified here and that’s an inert sense of rhythm. The legato is laid on and the rallentandi sound forced. The bad here is balanced by the extract from Un Ballo in Maschera which finds him with enviable control of line and a subtle impersonation and good depth of characterisation. We get an idea of how and why he had made such a stir in French opera from the two arias from Faust and Carmen (watch out; tracks eight and nine and reversed); Salut demeure chaste et pure is light grained and attractive albeit not especially urgent – Piccaver was certainly not a histrionic tenor at the best of times, which nullifies his Recondita armonia. Ponchielli tests his breath control – there are "blips" on long held notes but otherwise his technique is equal to pretty well all demands placed on it. And it’s good that we end with the aria from Giordano’s Fedora which shows conclusively that the beauty of tone, so much a feature of those 1912-14 sides, was still very much part of Piccaver’s vocal armoury, resisting the inroads of time and overuse. It’s a beautiful piece of singing.

Jonathan Woolf


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