In review: Jane Archibald and Liz UpchurchReview
Out of this season's Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, Jane Archibald's recital with Liz Upchurch was one I was really looking forward to. I was by no means disappointed. Jane's is a voice I've admired since I heard her as Zerbinetta in her COC debut in 2011. She was charmingly frank about her limited experience as a recitalist; I noticed that her programme was heavy on standards and perhaps a bit of a safe selection of rep, but all of it suited Jane beautifully. She gave a classy nod to Liz Upchurch at the piano, who has an extensive career of giving recitals, and Jane credited Liz with encouraging her to sing some new stuff alongside her go-to picks.
Jane and Liz began with a Mozart concert aria, "Vorrei spiegarvi, o Dio" K. 418, which I'd never heard before, but was clearly a piece of technical fireworks, to which Jane is no stranger. It was the kind of aria that demanded a ton from the singer, both technically and musically; there were phrases that trailed off at an impossibly high tessitura, and Jane still found the music in those moments. The aria sounded strangely progressive for Mozart, all chromatic and odd phrase lengths, but it's a winner for me. Click here to hear Edita Gruberová sing it.
A set of Gabriel Fauré was next on the programme, and although it struck me that I hadn't yet heard Jane sing in French, she chose songs that suited her light legato well. She sang in a beautifully understated way during "Lydia", and let her voice fill out for a stunning "Après un rêve". Liz played these songs with gorgeous lines playing duets with the voice, and I envied her calm posture while she played that pianist's nightmare, "Fleur jetée".
Jane completely shone in her set of Richard Strauss, speaking briefly about the role of Strauss' music in her career. She chose some of his "hits", which was entirely fine with me because it's rare to hear any "hits" sung with the care that Jane gave. Alongside Liz, Jane sang a perfect "Ständchen", all light and secretive and giddy; Liz had a beautiful touch for that tricky piano part, showing off her knack for finding endless colours within a song. "Morgen" was a total gem, as performed by these two deeply musical women.
Finally, Jane and Liz gave us four songs by Roger Quilter. I usually have a list of English composers whose music I'd rather hear than Quilter's, but I can't deny that the two of them were perfectly suited to the songs and the style; it was one of those moments where I got to hear professionals sing all the old songs my classmates sang during my university years, except really well done. Jane obviously loved these poems, and Liz didn't miss a moment in Quilter's dense piano scores. It was a beautiful end to the recital, even though we were treated to an encore: "O Sleep, why dost thou leave me?" from Handel's Semele (Jane is getting set to reprise the title role Zhang Huan's Semele, seen at the COC in 2012, where she was a superhuman coloratura machine.).
This recital was a great confirmation of my suspicions about Jane: even without the spectacle of sets and costumes, all the great stuff is truly in her voice. The Amphitheatre isn't a place for singers to hide, and Jane was as polished up close as she is on the big stage. Paired with Liz at the piano, this was an expert duo offering a really fine concert. A total treat!