Born April 14, 1929; died January 25, 2012
The Finnish conductor Paavo Berglund died on Wednesday at his home in Helsinki. A great champion of the music of his fellow-countryman Jean Sibelius, Berglund had a wide repertoire and recorded extensively.
Among his major conducting posts were Principal posts with the Finnish RSO (1962-71), Bournemouth SO (1972-79), Helsinki PO (1975-79), Royal Stockholm PO (1987-90) and Royal Danish Orchestra (1993-98). He was also Prinicipal Guest Conductor of the Scottish National Orchestra between 1981 and 1985, and later he was a frequent guest with the Russian National Orchestra.
He started his musical life as a violinist – which, unusually, he played left handed – and joined the Finnish RSO in 1949. That same year, he founded the Helsinki Chamber Orchestra and started conducting, and by 1956 he'd been appointed Associate Conductor of the Finnish RSO, assuming the chief job in 1962.
For British audiences, and record collectors in general, his years with the Bournemouth orchestra were significant. He raised the standard of the playing and started to record regularly for EMI. It was with the Bournemouth SO that he recorded the first of his three Sibelius symphony cycles (the other two were with the Helsinki PO and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe). Notable in this first cycle was the inclusion of the Kullervo Symphony, the work's first recording. He also performed and recorded much British music including fine accounts of the violin concertos of Britten and Walton with Ida Haendel and the Walton Cello Concerto with Paul Tortelier. He also left discs of music by Bliss and Vaughan Williams.
Berglund sometimes courted controversy with his re-touching of orchestral parts; as he said in a Gramophone interview in October 1978 'Sibelius was a superb orchestrator, but right up to the very end he made strange dynamics which I find I have to change. In the Second Symphony you don't have to alter so much, but funnily enough there is a lot that needs altering in the Seventh Symphony … My attitude was "Wen treu" which in German means roughly 'be true to the work'. But you see, the composers didn't always know; they could have given it more thought. Bruckner, when things were suggested to him by Lowe and Schalk (who were certainly not stupid) told them to go ahead and do it. Maybe he was weak and should have argued sometimes a little bit more, but on the other hand many of their suggestions are fine.' And his passionate approach to the score brought him admiration from fellow Finns, Jukka-Pekka Saraste and Osmo Vänskä, as well as from one of the UK's finest Sibelians, Sir Simon Rattle.
Among his last recordings were two sets with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe that allowed the ensemble's size to bring a transparency to the sound – the symphonies of Brahms (Ondine) and his third Sibelius symphony cycle (Finlandia). In his Gramophone review of the Sibelius (October 1998), Andrew Achenbach wrote 'all Sibelians should try to hear this Finlandia set, which I guarantee will stimulate and intrigue in abundance.'