City Recital Hall, November 5


We were well into the concert when Jacqui Dark barely breathed “Ne me quitte pas.” Suddenly, after five months, you remembered why live music beats recorded music: you were no longer just another lost soul in a room, but part of a community of hundreds of throats gulping the same lump when Dark sang those words, and our presence made her feel and believe them all the more, in a potent spiral.

Jacqui Dark. Photos: Maria Boyadgis.

She also sang part of Jacques Brel’s song of that name in English, allowing us to relish the desperate poetry of such lines as “I would be the shadow of your shadow”. Nonetheless it faded slightly from the intensity of the French because Brel wasn’t guessing when he wrote it: the sounds of the words, the emotions conveyed and the notes on which they ride were all perfectly congruent, and disturbing that balance reduces a masterpiece to mere greatness.

Had the Belgian’s first language had been English, would we still speak of Dylan or Lennon with quite the same reverence? Nearly a decade before them he had already dissected our psyches in song; had already perused humanity with sardonic wit and – more than Dylan or Lennon – compassion.

Dark also unslipped the finely engraved knot of forgiveness, knowingness and bottomless love in La Chanson des Vieux Amants (Song for Old Lovers), beginning it delicately, letting it swell, and reining it in again, exquisitely shaded all the while by pianist Daryl Wallis (who also offered a haunting arrangement of Seul).

Carousel was the madly surreal ride it’s supposed to be, and she sang To See a Friend in Tears without a microphone, leaving one wondering whether the whole concert might have been better that way. Brel’s words thrive on intimacy, even if fame obliged him to sing in huge concert halls.

Not all the material was so successful. Mashing Vesoul with Men at Work’s Down Under undermined Brel’s comedy, and several songs had a forced rather than felt theatricality. But she was superb on Fils de…, and gave herself ample room to build a vast, seething, Amsterdam, not unlike a Breughel painting. She let her splendid mezzo soprano roam across the loveliness of La Fanette, and breathed life into the ingenious Funeral Tango (penned from the point of view of a corpse) – metaphorically leading us back from the live-music graveyard.