Alfred Piccaver The Complete Electric Recordings 1928-1930
What a prize British opera missed, when Alfred Piccaver’s parents moved to the USA. The Piccavers were Lincolnshire farmers, though they claimed Spanish ancestry going back to the time of the Armada. As a child, Piccaver heard Caruso at the Metropolitan and it was his example that fired him to study singing, initially in New York and then after his first season in Prague in 1907, moving on to Milan. His career, however, was almost entirely devoted to Vienna, where from 1913 until 1937 he was the idol of the Viennese public, singing opposite Lehmann and Jeritza. Sadly, as far as I have been able to research, he does not seem to have recorded with either of them. The soprano, Margit Angerer, who joins him in six duets on these Polydor records (made between 1928 and 1930), while obviously a talented singer, does not impress with much character.
No such accusation could be levelled at Piccaver. His is one of those outgoing, all-embracing personalities, with a voice of apparently inexhaustible warmth and power. (The Vienna State Opera is a big theatre.) Piccaver phrases in a splendidly healthy way – listen to the opening of “E lucevan le stelle”: even an aria as well-known as this jumps out afresh when given the relaxed outpouring of sound, the unbroken legato. It’s quite easy to imagine the thrill in the theatre. “The caressing velvet of his voice was so unbelievably beautiful,” wrote Lotte Lehmann, “that it was sufficient, whatever he did, however he moved.” She did not rate him at all as an actor, and recalled that she had to lead him through his steps on the stage.
He certainly can act with the voice, though: the farewell to the swan in the passage from Act 1 of Lohengrin, Florestan’s aria (Fidelio), and the absolutely glorious account of Vasco da Gama’s “O Paradis” from Meyerbeer’s
Lehmann recalled that despite living in Vienna for 25 years, Piccaver never mastered the German language, and this probably accounts for a certain lack of engagement where individual words are concerned. His Italian is better; he really conveys the sadness of Pinkerton’s “Addio fiorito asil”, and the anguish of “Mamma, quel vino e generoso” from Cavalleria rusticana. Marcel Prawy wrote that Piccaver relished the fermate that were the joy of the Viennese public, lingering on high notes. Perhaps he doesn’t indulge in this so much on disc; what impresses over and over again is the cleanness of his phrasing, never resorting to strained bellow or sob.
Piccaver returned to England before the outbreak of the Second World War. He made a few records for Decca (reissued long ago on a charming LP, 12/59), including an impassioned