Friday, June 18, 2021

Paavo Berglund conducts Sibelius

No. 360 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT eries of audio montages can be found in our archives at


This week’s new montage is an all-Sibelius program, under the direction of Finnish conductor Paavo Berglund. Berglund's conducting career began in 1949, when he founded his own chamber orchestra. In 1953, Berglund co-founded the Helsinki Chamber Orchestra and two years later was appointed Associate Conductor of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra He served as its chief conductor of the from 1962-71. Berglund became music director of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra in 1975 and held the post for four seasons. In the UK, Berglund led Sibelius Centenary Concerts with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in 1965, and became their principal conductor in 1972, concluding his tenure in Bournemouth in 1979.

Berglund was tireless in studying, preparing and rehearsing. He almost always came to the orchestra with his own materials he had corrected and bowed by his own hand. He would then mark highly detailed instructions on the sheet music of each individual musician.

To open the montage, I chose The Oceanides, a single-movement tone poem for orchestra written in 1913–14. The piece, which refers to the nymphs in Greek mythology who inhabited the Mediterranean Sea, is sometimes viewed as an example of Impressionism. Others have countered that Sibelius's active development of the two subjects, his sparing use of scales favored by Impressionists, and his prioritization of action and structure over ephemeral, atmospheric background distinguish the piece from quintessential examples, such as Debussy's La mer.

The third symphony is a good-natured, triumphal, and deceptively simple-sounding piece, laid out in three movements. It is dedicated to the British composer Granville Bantock an early champion of his work in the UK.

The remainder if the program features short pieces for violin and orchestra. Everyone agrees that the Six Humoresques are miniature masterpieces, but they are still very seldom played, and just as seldom recorded. Along with the two equally fine serenades, they would make perfect encore pieces after Sibelius’ Violin Concerto.

The humoresques are performed here by Heimo Haitto (1925 – 1999). A child prodigy, he was characterized as “Finland’s Jascha Heifetz”. The performances retained here are from Finnish radio, compiled in a 2013 CD.

Ida Haendel (1928 –2020) was a Polish-British-Canadian violinist. A child prodigy, her career spanned over seven decades. After performing the Sibelius concerto in Helsinki in 1949, she received a letter from the composer. "You played it masterfully in every respect," Sibelius wrote, adding: "I congratulate myself that my concerto has found an interpreter of your rare standard." The Sibelius Society awarded her the Sibelius Medal in 1982. She is heard today with Berglund performing the two serenades.

I think you will love this music too.

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