Notes and Editorial Reviews
The Old Burial Ground
Kenneth Kiesler, cond; U Michigan SO; Tim Eriksen (folk singer); Anne-Carolyn Bird (sop); Nicholas Phan (ten)
DORIAN DSL-92113 (56:11)
It took me a while to getting around to review this CD. The concept of a quasi-narrated work in a traditional musical format with the subject of graveyards seemed unavoidably sentimental. I should have known better. I am not by nature a mystical person, but who can deny the enormous emotional power of cemeteries? It might be a passing
glance of sad, proud vets in full uniform visiting old comrades on Memorial Day, or the lyrical beauty of vast Victorian resting places such as Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill, or the awful majesty of sprawling military resting places. And then there is the simple eloquence of early American church graveyards, so rich with the rhythms of this nation’s early history, and the subject of this strong new work by Evan Chambers.
Chambers is a sophisticated composer and teacher (he chairs the composition department at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor), but he is intensely interested in folk music. He is a prize-winning Irish fiddler, and has studied Sufi and Albanian folk musics, but has a special passion for the vernacular traditions of American music. What makes this particular work so compelling is the daring mix of style and texture that Chambers employs, both musically and in his choice of words to set. The gravestone inscriptions are extraordinary; simple yet often profoundly poetic, tightly packed little kernels of searingly intense emotion. They seem like American style haiku. For Abel Spaulding Jr., died June 11, 1805, aged 46:
Oh drop on my grave,
As ye pass it, no tear
But rejoice for the freed one,
whose fetters lie here
Or for Miss Elizabeth Clark, died December 12, 1798, aged 16 years:
The fairest flower that Nature shews
Sustains the sharpest doom:
Her life was like a morning rose
That withered in its bloom
Chambers also uses contemporary poetry written in a complementarily spare style by four fine poets; Jane Hirshfield, Thomas Lynch, Richard Tillinghast, and Paula Meehan. One has to admire his self-confident blending of diverse literary and musical sources. The only slightly sour note for this listener is in the full-orchestra introduction and linking material, which, in its somewhat overwrought manner, seems to clash with the solemn grace of the words, and even, in that context, feels a bit pompous. But this work is very much the sum of its many interesting parts, and in that sense it is a bold success. The performances are excellent: sturdy, rich, and respectful of the darkly alluring subject matter.
FANFARE: Peter Burwasser
Works on This Recording
The Old Burying Ground, for narrator, 4 voices & orchestra by Evan Chambers
Length: 54 Minutes 2 Secs.
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