This review is an Ionarts exclusive.
Sarah Coburn, soprano
Saturday evening, soprano Sarah Coburn and tenor Lawrence Brownlee graced the stage of the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. As bel canto specialists, Coburn and Brownlee’s musical partnership was ideal in duets by Pedrotti, Bellini, Donizetti, and Rossini, while thoughtfully chosen solo works filled out the program. Instead of a performance for a full house, the musicians genuinely seemed like they were sharing their favorite works with friends.
The first notes of Martin Katz’s striking piano playing in the opening of Pedrotti’s duet from Tutti in Maschera immediately made one aware that this would be a different caliber of concert. Katz was an equal partner on stage, never hesitant to push a phrase or equal the resonant tone of the singers. The refinement of his playing was particularly evident in the three Petrarch Sonnets, where Liszt's ever-colorful resolution-avoiding roving supported the tenor’s longing for a certain Laura with profound musical word painting. The third sonnet, titled I Beheld on Earth Angelic Grace and written in the past tense, was particularly bittersweet in that Liszt created a unique sense of emotional distance -- a musical memory instead of reality.
Coburn shined brightest in a set of flamenco-esque songs by Joaquín Turina and Fernando Obradors, which highlighted her exquisite coloratura – sinus infection be damned! Brownlee’s powerful interpretation of John Carter’s Cantata reminded one of the emotional depths of spirituals, enhanced by novel accompaniments; kudos for programming American music. While equally impressive, Coburn was slightly better at communicating the music, by taking phrases to their edge. This is not to imply that Brownlee was in any way stiff; it is just that Coburn, even though sick, seemingly gave absolutely everything while keeping herself in nuanced control. The finale and encore of this wonderful recital were more delightful bel canto duets and solos by Donizetti and Rossini.
Lawrence Brownlee, tenor
The next recital on the Vocal Arts Society series will feature soprano Susanna Phillips and pianist Craig Terry (March 26, 7:30 pm), at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater.
It has just come to my attention that Sarah Coburn is the daughter of Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and gets her good looks from her mother, who is a former Miss Oklahoma. This has nothing really to do with her singing but may be of general interest to readers. --Ed.