Though not completely unknown—she has several albums and collaborations with artists like Tan Dun on her CV—Norwegian violinist Eldbjørg Hemsing is a new face on the New York scene. Her recital Wednesday night in the Bruno Walter Auditorium had the satisfaction of hearing a fine, new artistic voice in full maturity.
The concert was presented by the National Music and Global Culture Society, an organization that brings together music from differing backgrounds around the world. Hemsing played with Azerbaijani pianist Nargiz Aliyarova, the organization’s founder and president, performed two standard violin sonatas from and, befitting the NMGCS mission, nationalist music from their respective countries of origin.
Thus, the program began with Prokofiev and ended with Grieg, with mostly obscure names (Bjarne Brustad, Franghiz Alizadeh, Gara Garayev, and Arif Melikov) in the middle. One could hear the concert as a sandwich with more bread than meat—substantial and delicious bread to be sure, but also some substance in the middle pieces, primarily in the solo music for each instrument.
From Aliyarova’s opening remarks, it was clear that the two musicians had not played together before being joined for this concert. She expressed that they found that between them they had a sympathetic view of Prokofiev’s Violin Sonata No. 2, Op. 94.
Yet, oddly, it was in this music where the two seemed least integrated as partners. Eldbjørg’ s shining, singing tone and Aliyarova’s darker sound—enhanced by a distinctive Steinway—made for a strong aesthetic contrast, appropriate for Prokofiev’s complex mixture of sincerity and acerbity, calm and agitation.
But the two did not see eye-to-eye in terms of phrasing and dynamics. The strengths of Eldbjørg’s playing came through and she showed an innate feeling for the long line and the expressive possibilities of fine dynamic gradations. Throughout the Prokofiev sonata, her dynamic range was much wider than the pianist, and Hemsing’s quiet playing found more depths in the music. There were also balance problems throughout the sonata, with the pianist too often covering Hemsing’s violin.
Grieg’s Violin Sonata No. 3, which closed the concert, was excellent in every way. Here the two musicians were wholly simpatico—in coordination on phrasing, dynamics, and also mood, where Aliyarova matched Eldbjørg’s quick, communicative flow. Finding truly quiet volume, one could hear all of the violinist’s soft and varied colors and timbres.
In the middle section of the concert, Eldbjørg played Brustad’s Fairy Tale for solo violin, four short, charming vignettes based around the traditional Norwegian stories of trolls. The pianist’s solo piece was Alizadeh’s Music for Piano. Some of the composer’s music can be heard through recordings from the Kronos Quartet, and the piano piece was a fine distillation of her voice. Using a small chain to prepare a section of the instrument’s strings to produce a cimbalom-like sound, Aliyarova delivered captivating contrasts between the alternations of haunting, minor-key pentatonic scales and stormy, effective passages in the deepest parts of the piano.
The two came together for lyrical if rather sentimental excerpts from ballets by Garayev and Melikov, demonstrations of a style that didn’t match the rest of the programming in substance.
These also had less of a hold on an often-chaotic audience, which responded with enthusiasm at the end but also spent time talking, texting, and going in and out of the rows as the music was playing. Aliyarova even had to shoo away the photographer, who climbed up on the stage with the musicians were playing Melikov’s “Monologue” from the ballet Legend of Love.
Written by George Grella on April 25, 2019