BORGSTRÖM; SHOSTAKOVICH Violin Concertos
It was only a matter of time before Eldbjørg Hemsing, a big star in her native Norway, followed her sister Ragnhild into the commercial recording studio. Less prone to genre crossing but just as marketable, she produces a tensile, vibrant tone from her Guadagnini instrument, ideally suited to big-hearted Romantic fare. Shostakovich makes different demands and when the orchestra is Austrian, the conductor Estonian and the label Swedish we can perhaps scarcely expect the last word in timbral authenticity. Hemsing’s rendition still trumps that of Leticia Moreno, who makes a less technically secure appeal to her Spanish fanbase despite enjoying the support of Yuri Temirkanov and the St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra. If the Viennese can sound less than ideally involved, BIS’s bright focus on the solo violin may be partly to blame. Vibrato-heavy in her overlit opening Nocturne and similarly impassioned in the great Passacaglia movement, Hemsing is nonetheless more conventional in terms of tempo and text than Frank Peter Zimmermann on the same label. After a cadenza that generates considerable heat she is content to let the orchestra introduce the finale on its own. The blistering denouement may or may not compensate for the dearth of introspection.
The unexpected coupling, considerably more than a makeweight and actually placed first on the disc, exerts a rather different appeal. I should mention that it dates from 1914 and has been recorded once before by an all-Scandinavian team offering more by the same composer. There are initial hints of something more harmonically adventurous (Sibelius or Strauss) but Hjalmar Borgström (1864-1925), a critic by trade, was disinclined to experiment when it came to his own music. A recorded sound that limits the kind of visceral orchestral attack needed in the Shostakovich bathes Borgström’s ultra-conservative Scandi-Bruch in an appropriate glow. It’s not music you remember much once it stops: there’s no disguising the fact that Grieg was a more potent melodist. However, with advocacy as ardent as this, the overall impression is very positive. The soloist says the concerto reminds her of home. It will strike most listeners as unwaveringly German.