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Sarah Coburn: “Oh, When I Dream” 

CD Button Songs by R. Strauss, Turina, Obradors, Liszt and Rachmaninoff. Küchle, piano. Texts and translations. AAM Recordings 888295265386

Recordings Coburn Cover 216

IT IS A RARE RECITAL that includes songs in five different languages (German, Spanish, French, Italian and Russian). It is even rarer to hear a recital CD where singer and pianist perfectly capture the style and mood of each song. Such is, happily, the case in “Oh, When I Dream,” the new recital disc from American soprano Sarah Coburn accompanied by pianist Marcus Küchle. As I had heard only a few snippets of Coburn before this CD, I was unprepared for the sheer brilliant beauty of this voice and the gracious and subtle phrasing she brings to all fifteen songs on this marvelous disc. Adding even more beauty is the delicate, sensitive and sensual playing of her accompanist, Marcus Küchle. The chemistry between singer and accompanist is palpable, and the result is mesmerizing.

To my ear, Sarah Coburn’s voice is reminiscent of the young Renée Fleming.  She has a lush, liquid silver sound of ravishing beauty from top to bottom; she even delves into some exciting chest voice in a couple of songs. But the voice is not just beautiful—Coburn brings a deeply felt connection to each song, expressing emotion clearly without resorting to any vocal tricks. Richard Strauss’s “Wiegenlied” (Lullaby) begins the disc and even the first two words, “Traume, traume…,” are infused with a haunting, dreamlike quality. The sheer joy in the voice tinged with sensuality brings “Ständchen” (Serenade) to life vividly. Most remarkable in the Strauss set is “Befreit” (Free), in which both the singing and playing reflect the mixed feelings of a spouse releasing the soul of a partner. Coburn brings wonderful coloring to the repeated phrase “o Gluck!,” which Strauss writes as a phrase beginning with joy but ending with doubt.

We then move to three Spanish songs, beginning with Turina’s “Cantares,” a song of conflicted and unfulfilled love sung with a distressed and distracted quality, followed by Obradors’s limpidly beautiful “Del cabello más sutil” (Of the softest hair), sung with exquisite ease and shimmering sound, and the delightful “Coplas de Curro Dulce” (Verses by Curro Dulce), a little comic gem.

More powerful singing comes in Liszt’s tormented “Pace non trovo” (I find no peace), in which we first hear the bottom of Coburn’s voice, searing on the phrase “Egualmente mi spiace morte e vita” (Death and life displease me equally) and a stirring forte on the last phrase “per voi, O Laura, per voi,” as the singer realizes he cannot have the woman he adores.

Five Rachmaninoff songs finish the disc. Particularly affecting are “Vesennije vody” (The spring waters), in which Coburn and Küchle find a thrilling climax on the repeated cries “Vesna idjot! Vesna idjot!” (The spring is coming!), and “Son” (A dream), a deeply affecting piece about a dream of joy ruined by the sadness of the realization that it was, in fact, only a dream. Coburn finds that elusive “tear in the voice” and Küchle's piano sings of sadness.

This is the most moving and satisfying recital disc that I have heard in many a day. It certainly signals that Sarah Coburn is ready to take a more prominent role in opera and in the world of the art song. The voice has become more powerful, the interpretation deeper, and the technique stronger. This is simply wonderful singing.  —Henson Keys 


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