Le Cabaret du Néant

A Hollywood Elegy
On Suicide
To the little Radio
Mutter Beimlein
Abortion is Illegal
Schenk mir deinen goldenen Kamm
Nowth upon nacht
The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs
Ne Suis que Grain
Suis Chauve de Naissance
Ta parure est secrete
Why Do You Think People Believe In God?
Go To Hell World!
4 Colonizations

Robert Fokkens (compere and chanteur)
Sarah Dacey (chanteuse)
Belinda Jones (piano)
Rosie Banks (cello)
Catriona Scott (clarinet)

Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter

Reviewed: 8 December, 2006
Venue: Lauderdale House, Highgate, London

This was pulse’s first public appearance, an evening of cabaret songs written by composers in unbuttoned mood. About half dated from the 1920s. Those of Robert Fokkens and Lawrence Crane are more recent – the composers were present. Of the named lyricists, many were distinguished – and dead.

The opening was rather strained. Fokkens introduced the evening amiably, but was also rather nervously flip. Sarah Dacey, dressed in the gym-slip costume associated with Cabaret, stood very still when she sang her first few songs, her body language stiff and uncertain. In these intimate surroundings – the upstairs gallery in Lauderdale House, on a cold night – she had undertaken quite a task: to sing in French and German to a close, small audience.

After the first group of songs and the respite Fokkens gave her by singing some Eisler in a light, slightly husky baritone, Sarah Dacey returned more exuberantly, in stronger voice. She revealed herself to have a strong, perky soprano, eminently capable of rasping in German as well as seeping nasally in French.

After the first interval, we jumped several decades. John Cage dominated. With straight-faced aplomb, Fokkens growled his way through Cage’s setting of a piece of Joyce. Sounds were exuberantly mangled, as if Fokkens were singing emphatically through a mouthful of food. By contrast, the sheer sensuous loveliness of the same composer’s “The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs” was a delight and a credit to Sarah Dacey.

Sarah Dacey was equally convincing in five songs by Laurence Crane and the “4 Colonizations” by Fokken. The second song from the latter, a Blake setting, ‘Enough’, was colourful, challenging and witty. It brought the house down. There’s a talent there for the irreverent. Crane’s music was vividly-decorated minimalism. There was variation from one item to another, but, within each item, we heard ever-repeated colour, rhythm, pace and phrase, almost unvarying. These nonsense verses were striking, spare and simple.

The evening ended with Fokkens and Dacey singing Weill’s ‘Alabama-Song’ as a duet. Throughout the evening – as a warm-up and through the intervals – Belinda Jones, Rosie Banks and Catriona Scott had presented exemplary Weill, with vigorous attack and spirited, astringent lyricism. Thus, the Weill song was a fitting, rousing culmination to this enjoyable evening, marking the great pleasure we had from the talents of the two singers and the serene, poised, spiky instrumentalists.

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