Review: Dvořák&Suk Recording in The Strad (UK)

A splendid combination of purity and sweeping, Heifetz-like intensity

The Strad | By Julian Haylock, 16. November 2018

Dvořák’s sole Violin Concerto is not among his most free-flowingly spontaneous scores. It took him four years (on and off) to complete, by which time the intended dedicatee Joseph Joachim had grown tired of the project and, despite having already advised on several changes, was still unhappy about what he considered the terse bridge between the first and second movements and over-repetitious finale.

Only comparatively recently has it become virtually standard repertoire, yet is remains a problematic work requiring sensitive and impassioned advocacy to sound its best. This it receives in spades from Eldbjørg Hemsing, who sustains high standards of intonational purity and beguiling tonal lustre throughout even most awkward of passages. She also shapes phrases with a chamber-scale dynamic suppleness, in contrast to the majority of recorded players, whose tendency towards special pleading often leads to over-projection.

However, the star turn here is the Suk Fantasy, which sounds (no bad thing) like an evacuee soundtrack from the Golden Age of Hollywood, with Hemsing hurling herself into the fray with an almost Heifetz-like intensity and swashbuckling bravado. Alan Buribayev and the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra provide sterling support and the commendably natural recording opens out seductively when the SACD-surround track is activated.

Review: Dvořák&Suk Recording in Süddeutsche (DE)

“…mit der 28 Jahre alten Eldbjørg Hemsing begeistert nun wieder eine junge Geigerin aus Norwegen. Hemsing ist nicht nur eine feinsinnige und kluge Interpretin, sie entlockt ihrer Guadagnini auch einen sehr persönlichen, unverwechselbaren Geigenton. Zart, intim und filigran wirkt er im Kern, dabei aber selbst im gehauchten Piano noch sinnlich und klangvoll.”

Julia Spinola | 2. Oktober 2018 | Süddeutsche Zeitung

Es muss etwas Verzauberndes in den nordischen Fjorden und Berglandschaften liegen. Nachdem die bereits mehrfach preisgekrönte Vilde Frang die internationalen Podien erobert hat, begeistert mit der 28 Jahre alten Eldbjørg Hemsing nun wieder eine junge Geigerin aus Norwegen. Mit Musik des weitgehend unbekannten norwegischen Komponisten Hjalmar Borgström hatte sie im April ihr Debüt gegeben. Auch auf ihrer zweiten CD meidet sie jetzt die ausgetretenen Pfade und spielt neben Antonín Dvořáks Violinkonzert die selten zu hörende Fantasie in g-Moll für Violine und Orchester von Dvořáks Schwiegersohn Josef Suk. Hemsing ist nicht nur eine feinsinnige und kluge Interpretin, sie entlockt ihrer Guadagnini auch einen sehr persönlichen, unverwechselbaren Geigenton. Zart, intim und filigran wirkt er im Kern, dabei aber selbst im gehauchten Piano noch sinnlich und klangvoll. Im leidenschaftlichen Forte, etwa im Eröffnungsthema des Dvořák-Konzerts, beginnt dieser eindringlich singende Ton irisierend zu leuchten. Mit ein wenig Fantasie hört man hier den großen David Oistrach heraus, dessen Schüler Boris Kuschnir Hemsings Lehrer war.

ELDBJØRG HEMSING IN BR-KLASSIK KLICKKLACK

Portrait of Eldbjørg Hemsing in “KlickKlack” | BR-KLASSIK | 7th May 2018

“KlickKlack”, music magazine for Classical Music, Jazz and good Pop Music, is the only format in which two world stars – cellist Sol Gabetta an percussionist Martin Grubinger – are giving the TV viewers a very close experience on how professional artist work, rehearse and perform. The imagery is modern, the camera extremely subjective.

Eldbjørg Hemsing has been guest of Martin Grubinger in the BR-KLASSIK “KlickKlack” feature from 7th May 2018, beside Michael Sanderling, Chief Conductor of Dresden Philharmonic, Gautier Capuçon, French cellist, and pianist Jens Thomas.

ELDBJØRG HEMSING IN PRESTO CLASSICAL

Eldbjørg Hemsing on Borgström’s Violin Concerto

Katherine Cooper | Presto Classical | 14th May 2018

For her debut solo recording (out now on BIS), the Norwegian violinist Eldbjørg Hemsing pairs Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1 with a very different (and far less familiar) work: the lush 1914 Violin Concerto by composer and music-journalist Hjalmar Borgstrøm, who initially studied in Oslo with his compatriot Johan Svendsen but went on to pursue a consciously Germanic style after spending time in Leipzig and Berlin.

I spoke to her recently about why this attractively lyrical work has fallen off the radar, where it sits in relation to other early twentieth-century concertos, and her immediate plans for further recordings…

The Borgstrøm concerto is a real curiosity – how did you come across it in the first place?

It was a bit of a chance encounter, really: a family friend sent a pile of sheet-music to my home in London which included the score, and I set it to one side for a while but when I started to go through it in detail I was really intrigued because it’s just so beautiful. It had only ever been performed twice (in Norway), so essentially it was completely forgotten: no-one knew about this piece, and I think it’s a great discovery!

Do you have any theories as to why his music never really entered the repertoire?

There are several factors, I think. First of all it’s because Borgstrøm was a little bit behind the curve in many ways: his timing was not the best! He was composing in this late Romantic style at a time when people were already branching out and moving away from that; of course there had been Grieg, who spent a lot of time travelling around and using folk-music in a very different way from Borgstrøm, who was much more interested in Romantic ideals. He spent a total of fifteen years in Germany, initially studying in Leipzig and then living in Berlin for many years – but by the time this concerto was premiered in 1914, World War One had broken out and in Norway it was considered almost improper to continue in this very German musical tradition. He also composed quite a few symphonic poems, an opera and some piano music, but I haven’t been able to find out very much about them because there aren’t that many studies in print!

You pair the Borgstrøm with Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto – what was the thought-process behind the coupling?

When the offer came to make my first recording I knew I wanted to include the Shostakovich – I studied the piece from a very young age and have performed it a great deal. It’s painfully emotional and really dark: you’re really pushed to the limit of what you can express as a human being, and I thought that with a piece like that you need something that’s very much a contrast. I wanted something that was the complete opposite, something much more lyrical and ‘white’ in sound, something Romantic…and the Borgstrøm seemed to fit the bill perfectly, particularly because people don’t know it!

Are there any other Norwegian concertos that you’d like to bring back to life – Sinding, for instance?

I used to believe that if something wasn’t performed very often there was probably a reason for it (ie that that quality wasn’t good enough!) but I have to say that since discovering Borgstrøm I’ve actually become very curious about what there is out there, so I definitely would like to go on a journey to see what else I might find…!

Given that many listeners will be new to this work, could you point us in the direction of one or two personal highlights in the piece?

I think there’s a particularly special moment in the first movement: there’s quite a long introduction before you come to the first melody, which initially comes in the strings, and it’s very pure and lyrical and tender. And the second movement is my favourite in many ways – it’s like an operatic aria, and it reminds me of something but I can’t quite put my finger on what…It’s very familiar in a sense, but at the same time it has its own very individual sound.

Do you see any parallels with other violin concertos which were written at around the same time? I hear echoes of the Sibelius concerto here and there…

Yes, there’s definitely something similar about both the melodies and the chords – the Sibelius concerto was written 10 years prior to this, so it’s not unlikely that Borgstrøm knew it! But there’s also an operatic quality to the work that reminds me of Wagner in places…

What are your immediate plans on the recording front?

I’m about to start recording with the Oslo Philharmonic and Tan Dun, whom I first met eight years ago. We’ve done a lot of projects together, and this one includes one brand-new concerto and some other smaller pieces.

And the two of you share a passionate interest in the folk music of your respective countries…

Indeed. I started playing the violin when I was very young and I also studied the Hardanger fiddle alongside it, because the area where I come from is very rich in folk-music; I’ve continued to play both instruments and I try to make sure that every year I do some projects which include folk music because I think it’s very important to keep it fresh and alive.

DEBUT CD REVIEW IN THE STRAD

“…Eldbjørg Hemsing […] makes a good start with this powerful performance. A gorgeous, open-hearted piece, full of flowing lyricism, to which she brings warm and beautiful playing… Hemsing weaves steadily and unfussily, but with increasing emotional intensity. The finale scuttles along brilliantly.”

Tim Homfray | The Strad | 9th May 2018

The Norwegian composer Hjalmar Borgström was famous in his day but quickly fell into obscurity, his music bedded in the Germanic 19th century and considered old-fashioned and ‘not Norwegian enough’ at the beginning of the 20th. His compatriot Eldbjørg Hemsing wants to bring him back to notice, and makes a good start with this powerful performance of his 1914 Violin Concerto.

It is a gorgeous, open-hearted piece, full of flowing lyricism, to which she brings warm and beautiful playing. Her phrasing is supple and nuanced, flecked with neat little touches of vibrato and variations of dynamic. The central Adagio is far-ranging, moving from musing opening to a jaunty central section, and on to something more torridly passionate before leading straight into the dancing finale. Hemsing deftly handles all the transitions.

It is a bit of a gear-change from Borgström to austere Shostakovich (Bruch would have worked nicely). Hemsing weaves steadily and unfussily, but with increasing emotional intensity, to the climactic double-stops of the first movement. In the Scherzo she plays with an edge of violence, biting and snapping. The orchestra matches her vivid playing, but the recording sets it in the background, in a resonant acoustic. She is as fine in the third movement as the first in progressively ratcheting up the tension before easing down into the cadenza, which in its turn grows steadily to a searing climax. The finale scuttles along brilliantly.

ELDBJØRG HEMSING IN CLASSICAL MUSIC MAGAZINE

Eldbjørg Hemsing prominently featured in May 2018 issue of CLASSICAL MUSIC magazine (UK)

Violinist Jack Liebeck curates this strings edition of Classical Music encompassing his many artistic passions, from music education and photography through to practical advice for performers on maintaining healthy technique and taking instruments on tour. Professors Brian Cox, Robert Winston and Brian Foster explore the relationship between science and music; the benefits of hand therapy for common musicians’ injuries; CITES and travelling with instruments; the art of photographing performers; and what happens when students exercise their rights as consumers in higher education?

Plus, violinist Eldbjørg Hemsing turns up the Romantic heat in Norway; Joanna MacGregor celebrates the 70th anniversary of Dartington International Summer School; Orchestra Manager of the Year Sue Mallet; percussionist and conductor Thomas Søndergård; the role of a recording producer; Gallicantus tackle Orlande de Lassus’s sibylline prophecies; and osteopathy for musicians.

> More details in the digital and print version of CLASSICAL MUSIC