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.
Hjalmar Borgström sounds like the name of a BBC Four gumshoe, a melancholy detective solving crimes in downtown Tromsø. He was actually a Norwegian composer (1864-1925) who, like Grieg, studied in Germany, remaining there for 15 years. Grieg quickly assimilated his technique with native folk music, later expressing dismay at the younger Borgström’s lack of interest in making his music sound specifically Norwegian. His G major Violin Concerto was premiered in 1914. It’s an ambitious, 35-minute work, brimming with ideas, but you can understand why it’s fallen by the wayside. It’s much more German than Nordic in style. Nothing wrong with that, except that we’re talking conservative late 19th century Germany rather than Strauss. There are flashes of brilliance: the soloist enters within seconds after a flurry of timpani, and the lyrical asides are gorgeous. All very attractive (what a superb close the work has!), but nothing especially distinctive. Wonderfully played though, Eldbjørg Hemsing’s dynamism and rich, warm tone exactly what the concerto needs.
Unexpectedly, Hemsing couples it with Shostakovich’s brooding Concerto No. 1. She’s really impressive, sustaining the argument in the chilly Nocturne and suitably snarky in the scherzo. There’s good orchestral support too from Olari Elts and the Wiener Symphoniker, low winds, tuba and percussion making plenty of impact. Hemsing is at her best in the Passacaglia, the temperature rising inexorably to boiling point. The last movement’s adrenalin rush is joyous. Excellent sound, too – an enjoyable disc.
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