Neil Shicoff sings Live
Neil Shicoff is a tenor many readers will have come to value on both stage and records. Up to now, however, the recordings have all been of complete operas (much Verdi and Puccini but also a notable Eugene Onegin and Contes d’Hoffmann). As Oliver Wazola, writer of the thoughtful and often revealing introductory essay, puts it, this is ‘astonishingly his first official recital’. Actually, it is not even quite strictly a recital but more a collection, and therein lies a weakness. All but one of the items come from one or other of two concerts, one in 1996, the other 2001. The conductors, acoustics, and to some extent state of the voice are different; but what matters most is that the two put together do not constitute a satisfactory programme. Moreover, they expose a limitation in the art: it makes too explicit the emotional stress of whatever he sings, so that his voice-face seems too continually near to tears.
One takes the point made in the notes – that Shicoff is essentially a communicative artist and that the expressiveness of his singing is, to him, all-important. It’s quite right: he gives himself fully and generously to everything he sings. Sometimes there are surprises. ‘Nessun dorma’, for instance, has its moments of quiet tenderness, Lensky’s aria culminates (‘pridi, pridi’) in a plaintive invocation, and, most individual of all, the solo from La Juive incorporates (at ‘voué ma vie entière’) the sense of Eléazar’s advanced years.
Yet elsewhere – in the opening Verdi arias especially – there is too much emoting and not enough attention (literal and imaginative) to precisely what is written. In the duets, the baritone Vladimir Chernov sets an example worth pondering: his way is much more to infuse, rather than overlay, the voice with its emotions. Shicoff is quoted as saying ‘a note is only a path. The goal is the audience’. Is that really what an artist’s ‘goal’ should be? And might not such a proposition have rather a lot to answer for?