Caroline Shaw: Evergreen
Attacca Quartet (Nonesuch)
The Evergreen; Three Essays; And So; Blueprint; Other Song; Cant voi l’aube
Nonesuch 75597913507 61:08 mins
Whether it’s the mystery of Finnish forests (Sibelius’s Tapiola) or the poignant beauty of English cherry blossom (featured in Butterworth’s setting of A Shropshire Lad), trees are well represented in music. American composer Caroline Shaw’s four-movement string quartet The Evergreen is an offering to a specimen recently admired on Galiano Island, off the west coast of Canada. Extended pizzicato passages are evocative of falling rain in ‘Water’; through gentle textural layering, ‘Root’ stretches and grows. Like her compatriot Jennifer Higdon, Shaw finds a broad timbral palette for strings – every rasp and flicker is embedded within a lyrical and melodic language.
Attacca Quartet – an ensemble that has previously recorded works by Shaw on 2019 album Orange – performs with accuracy and precision, unleashing itself in Three Essays, a translation of prose by Marilynne Robinson. ‘Nimrod’ (another beloved musical inspiration) juxtaposes the chaos and creativity of the biblical character; ‘Echo’ uses a call and response structure in reference to the self-perpetuating nature of social media. As a violinist, Shaw writes idiomatically for strings – the sparse themes in Blueprint are simple and exquisitely crafted. The composer is also a versatile singer (her vocals are sampled on Kanye West’s 2015 hit ‘Say You Will’) and features on three songs with the quartet here. And So unfolds into a duet between voice and plucked strings; Other Song is a version of a piece originally performed with Sō Percussion and Cant voi l’aube is a setting of a poem by 12th-century trouvère Gace Brûlé.