WORKS: Thora of Rimol
PERFORMER: Randi Stene, Harald Bjørkøy, Trond Halstein Moe, Oddbjørn Tennfjord; TrønderOpera Chorus, Trondheim SO/Terje Boye Hansen
CATALOGUE NO: PSC 1230
He’s not in many of the reference books, so let’s start with some bare biographical bones: Hjalmar Borgstrøm (1864-1925) was a significant figure in Norwegian music during his lifetime, but subsequently almost forgotten. After early musical training in his native Kristiania (later Oslo), he followed the well-trodden path to Leipzig, then settling in Berlin until 1903. Besides his two operas, Thora på Rimol (Thora of Rimol, 1894) and Fiskeren (The Fishermen, 1900), he wrote much chamber and orchestral music as well as songs – the only pieces to keep his name alive, thanks to the advocacy of Kirsten Flagstad.
The fate of Thora, which takes Norse saga of the Viking era and turns it into Romantic drama, is perhaps indicative of Borgstrøm’s lot. The opera was not staged complete until last October near Trondheim, and then by an enterprising company that includes an amateur chorus. This recording, under the sympathetic baton of Terje Boye Hansen, was made a year earlier as if in preparation for this event, but it gives a good idea of the composer’s attractive if fairly standard late-19th-century style.
The best performance comes from Randi Stene in the title role, who uses her rich, dusky mezzo to exciting effect in portraying the woman who is deserted in love by the local ruler and incites the people to support his rival. The rival men, Haakon and Olav Tryggvason, are solidly taken by Harald Bjørkøy and Trond Halstein Moe, but Oddbjørn Tennfjord is more imposing as the villainous Kark. This recording is very welcome, but something altogether more vivid is needed if Borgstrøm is to be rescued from obscurity. John Allison