5 de Diapason
The almost complete disappearance of Hjalmar Borgström’s music from the repertoire is fully explainable by reasons not related to the quality of the music, but rather concerning a mismatch between the composer and the dominating trends in Norwegian music. Like Grieg in the preceding generation, Borgström went to study in Leipzig as from 1887. However, in contrast to Grieg who returned from Germany firmly resolved to carve out an authentic, Norwegian idiom, Borgström remained in Germany for a long time, immersing himself in the aesthetics of contemporary music there. When he returned to Norway for good in 1903, he was a staunch proponent of new German symphonic music. This conviction – or rather, his lack of interest in developing a national idiom – hampered his career in Norway. Grieg himself reportedly expressed bafflement at the phenomenon of a younger Norwegian composer, so obviously gifted and well trained as a musical craftsman – but with nothing specifically ‘Norwegian’ about his music. Borgström’s Violin Concerto was first performed at the 1914 Jubilee exhibition, a celebration of the centenary of the Norwegian constitution. A cultivation of national identity in the 1800s had developed into a near frenzy around the time the union with Sweden was dissolved in 1905. The cultural climate was thus very much in favour of presenting new Norwegian music, and the concerto was well received. It did not establish itself in the repertoire, however, receiving only a few performances in the following decades. The concerto is in the conventional three movements and, in keeping with its neutral title, does not have any explicit programme.
Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto was composed a few decades later than Borgström’s Concerto. This work too is marked by the uneasy fit between its composer and his environment. The difficulties Shostakovich experienced at the time were quite literally a matter of life and death. The post-war years saw the official denouncement of music containing ‘formalistic distortions and anti-democratic trends alien to the Soviet people’, in the words of the infamous decree by Zhdanov from 1948. Shostakovich, Prokofiev and others – that is, almost every composer of any significance in the Soviet Union – were accused of negating the basic principles of classical music. Shostakovich’s reaction to the Zhdanov doctrine was to follow two paths simultaneously. In public, he wrote ‘light’ music and film scores, works that paid the bills and would cause no problems with the authorities. In private, he composed the music that he wanted to write, music that met his own high artistic and intellectual standards but would have no chance of being performed in public. The First Violin Concerto falls decisively into the second category.
A champion of Norway’s rich musical tradition, Eldbjørg Hemsing has been performing on some of the world’s most prestigious stages since the age of 11, when she made her solo début with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra. Her star rose when she gave a globally televised performance at the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony in Oslo. A regular guest soloist with some of the world’s top ensembles, she is honoured to count the MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony 8 Orchestra, NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover, RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra (Ireland), Netherlands Symphony Orchestra, Oslo Philharmonic, Norwegian Radio Orchestra, Czech National Symphony Orchestra and Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra among her most active orchestral partners. © SM/Qobuz