Kenneth Kiesler / University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra

Evan Chambers: The Old Burying Ground

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Cemeteries may not be the subject of many epic-scale compositions, but the graveyard of Jaffrey, NH, inspired Evan Chambers' song cycle, The Old Burying Ground, and it is indeed a work of immense proportions. In setting epitaphs he discovered on a walk in 1998 and connecting them with commissioned poems by five poets, Chambers created a reverent meditation on death and memory that touches on musical traditions close to his heart. Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of this piece is the folk element, which is strongly conveyed through the plangent voice of Tim Eriksen; the epitaphs he sings have the authentic tang of rustic New England. More in the classical European tradition are the songs performed by tenor Nicholas Phan and soprano Anne-Carolyn Bird, yet these also summon up the flavor of modern Americana, particularly the lyrical styles of Aaron Copland or Samuel Barber. The 2007 performance by Kenneth Kiesler and the University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra is steadily paced and consistently subdued in expression, and the moods that linger after hearing this 2010 Dorian release are somber and serious, owing to the elegiac tone of the whole work. Sustaining this mode of expression for nearly an hour requires control, which the performers plainly have. However, listeners who grow restless may choose to select a few songs at a time, because absorbing the cycle in one sitting requires a commitment of time and a quiet space for reflection.

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