Sibelius Second Symphony From One Who Should Know

Finnish conductor Paavo Berglund, who died in January of this year, recorded the symphonies of fellow countryman Jean Sibelius no less than three times.  He is a good example of an artist who had a special insight and knowledge of the music of Finland’s greatest composer.  This evening on Symphony @ 7, we’ll have his final recording of Sibelius’s Symphony No. 2 in D with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Born in 1929, Berglund has long been associated with Finnish orchestras and also regularly guest conducted the major North American and European orchestras.  Late in his life, Sibelius heard Berglund conduct some of his symphonies and approved of his performances.  The conductor, still in his twenties, then met Sibelius at his home Ainola as part of a delegation of the Radio Orchestra that visited the revered composer near the end of his long life.  That visit may have set the seal on the young conductor’s dedication to the music of the older master.

Paavo Berglund was known as a strict disciplinarian in his approach to working with musicians, but his interpretations of Sibelius’s music included interesting points, saying, for instance, “Sibelius’s music is often ruined because it’s too strictly accurate….Accuracy against atmosphere: it’s not that simple.”  Sir Simon Rattle, who’s no slouch at conducting Sibelius himself, regards Paavo Berglund as a respected authority on Sibelius’s music.

For me, the point of bringing all this up is that there is a wonderful tradition in music of younger artists carrying on the great music of the past in ways that are renewing and inspiring.  Another good example that comes to mind is the conductor Bruno Walter.  He was an assistant to Gustav Mahler, and after Mahler died in 1911 went on to be one of his greatest champions, helping keep the interest in Mahler’s music alive until people like Leonard Bernstein really got the Mahler revival going in the 1960′s.  Walter himself went on conducting and recording well into his eighties in the early 1960′s.

Join me for Symphony @7 for the last recording Paavo Berglund made of the Second Symphony of Sibelius in 2005 at the Royal Festival Hall in London with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

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