Charles Aznavour, Royal Albert Hall, review: 'harmonious and bittersweet' -
Aznavour was named the 20th century’s greatest entertainer in a CNN poll in 1998 (edging out Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley)
It was billed as Charles Aznavour's farewell concert, but Jane Shilling thinks the 90-year-old French-Armenian singer shouldn't say goodbye just yet
“Good God,” said a chum to whom I remarked that I was going to seeCharles Aznavour's farewell concert. “I thought he was dead.” Dear me, no. The French-Armenian singer-songwriter – who was named the 20th century’s greatest entertainer in a CNN poll in 1998 (edging out Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley) – is still very much alive and, if not quite kicking, at least executing a nifty series of dance steps in his tiny, shiny pumps and razor-sharp suit.
“I was 90 three days ago,” he announced, to cheers from the audience – apart from a couple of Jennifer Archer soundalikes behind me, who were too busy gossiping to notice the dapper figure on stage. “What?” enquired one of the other, “do you do all day?” I was dying to hear the answer, but Charles, whose first big break came when Edith Piaf took him on tour back in 1946, was telling us what it feels like to be 90. “At this age, you don't see or hear very well, so...” said he, indicating to the autocues at stage front with a roguish gesture.
Three days into his tenth decade, the glorious voice was naturally a little diminished. But it was still a remarkably harmonious instrument, and in any case, the bittersweet Aznavourian sound world, with its piercing regrets for lost love and lost youth, its unsatisfactory anniversaries and its memories of old Paris, was always driven more by the lyrics than the melody.
If the maddeningly reverberant amplification meant that we couldn't hear every syllable of She, La Boheme, or a briskly articulated Mes Emmerdes, it hardly mattered – everyone in the packed hall knew all the words anyway.
He has been doing this since he was nine years old – and it showed. For 90 minutes the energy never faltered. Then suddenly he was gone, in a flurry of bouquets. The standing ovation went on for minutes, but in vain. There was no encore.
By Jane Shilling