Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
"Nondescript" is the word for Charles Aznavour; sit next to him on a bus - a short, balding man with a sad, deeply lined face - and you might not notice that the seat was occupied. He might be the bank officer who tells you that mortgage money is tight at the moment, but not the one who makes the decision, only the one who delivers the bad news.
This is his strength; he can pass for nobody in particular because, under that mild, slightly tattered exterior, he is everyman - sometimes, when the music takes hold and he slips fully into his role, everywoman: A tabula rasa, a blank screen on which the whole spectrum of human experience and feeling can be projected.
Wednesday night in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, he was uniquely Aznavour, which means that he was, in some way, a part of every person in the overflow audience.
The art of the French singer, that special art whose center of gravity lies somewhere between the popular and the classical, between music and drama, has reached a special height, a special flavor in the work of Aznavour; his affinities are as much with Marcel Marceau as with Edith Piaf.
His voice is good but not dazzling; it does not have the resonance of Brel, for example, who can touch your nerve centers, with pure tone, but [WORD ELLEGIBLE] accurate, clear, expressive in the [WORD ELLEGIBLE] tlest nuances, and aided by a per [WORD ELLEGIBLE] control of every small gesture,[WORD ELLEGIBLE] whose lines speak more precisely than words. The arching of an eyebrow, a shrug, a simple movement of the hands, and the story of a life lies open before you.
Many lives were presented thus Wednesday night, more than he possibly could have lived, thoughnhe sang them all as though they were his own.
He was a husband on his 20th anniversary, finding with surprise that he still loves his exasperating wife. A philosopher pondering that "On ne sait jamais ("Yor never know.") A patriot in a very moving song that I had not heard before, "They Fell," recalling the Turkish massacre of the Armenians 60 years ago.
His art is subtle but it comes across even in a large concert hall full of people.