Lewis Furey’s English Night of Brahms

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Let’s get this out of the way. Singer and songwriter Lewis Furey has a style like Rufus Wainwright; you either like his timbre and affected singing style or you don’t. When the evening began on Furey’s Brahms Lieder concert, I have to admit that I didn’t. His sforzando word play and sporadic British-like accent sapped the melody out of the opening song Wie Melodien zieht es mir which he translated as Just a Feeling. But after the second song, I started to forget about his voice – the 67 year old Furey doesn’t pretend to be a virtuose – and began to appreciate the songs for their lyrics, Furey’s translations. When I interviewed Furey two months ago (see Crystal Chan’s article), he said that his translations are current to today’s language and references, and he cites T.S. Elliot that every generation must come up with their own translation of the great works. How appropriate.

Since Furey was singing in English, the words flowed with ease, and was also easily received. The displayed English text on the digital screen behind the piano for the 16-song concert was helpful, especially for the predominant francophone crowd. It was like a conversation at the salon between Furey and the audience. I had two thoughts: Furey should take the show to English North America, and I wonder what a trained classical singer could do with this material.

The friendly home-town audience lapped up moments of tangents when Furey sang parts of the Beatles or pop songs to draw parallels to his lyrics. As the evening progressed, Furey’s voice warmed up, and by the end, he closed the show with a reprise of Just a Feeling, this time, he sang with legato and without the hint of the accent he displayed at the beginning, and the melody came through.

Furey is right, we have to adapt to today’s technology and audiences to connect the arts to the public. I’ll go on record to say that the best way to save the Art Song recital is to sing in the language of the audience, and to use a microphone when needed.

After leaving the concert, I heard the news of the passing of poet and singer Leonard Cohen, and my reaction to the lost just reinforces my takeaway from the concert, how words matter, especially in the language of the audience.

  • Lewis Furey Brahms Lieder was reviewed on Nov. 10, continues on Nov. 11, and is extended to Nov. 12 and Nov. 24. Outremont Theatre. theatreoutremont.ca

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