Paavo Berglund conducts Sibelius's Symphony No. 5 — With the Chamber Orchestra of Europe
The legendary 1998 cycle of Sibelius's symphonies
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At fifty, Sibelius had nearly attained the status of national hero in Finland. In his first four symphonies, he had amply demonstrated his mastery of European symphonic techniques—all inflected by his personal idiom, a singular and poignant music that seemed capable of uniting his country under an identity separate from a long history of social, cultural, and military domination by Sweden and then by Russia. The Finnish government declared Sibelius's 50th birthday (December 8, 1915) a national holiday, and the work they commissioned from him to mark the occasion would prove to be among the greatest symphonies ever composed. Sibelius's monumental Fifth Symphony is a celebration of life itself, a paean to nature, and an ode to the transformative power of unity: "It is as if God Almighty," the composer wrote, "had thrown down pieces of a mosaic for heaven's floor and asked me to find out what was the original pattern."
A moment to listen for in… Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony: The famous "swan theme" at 25:00, inspired by a chance encounter. “Today at ten to eleven I saw 16 swans. They circled over me for a long time. Disappeared into the solar haze like a gleaming silver ribbon. Their call the same woodwind type as that of cranes, but without tremolo. The swan-call closer to the trumpet … Nature’s mysticism and life’s angst! The Fifth Symphony’s finale theme: legato in the trumpets!” — Jean Sibelius, April 21, 1915.
About this cycle: It would be difficult to speak about the life and work of Finnish conductor Paavo Berglund without mentioning the name of his illustrious compatriot, composer Jean Sibelius—but the reverse is also true, as Berglund spent a lifetime exploring the profound depths of Sibelius’s music and bringing it to an ever wider public. After three recordings of the complete Sibelius symphonies on CD, Berglund returned to these titanic works in 1998, aged nearly 70, with a level of insight—shaped over the course of decades—that perhaps no other conductor has ever achieved.
His unique perspective, with a keen ear for subtle details and a remarkable clarity of sound, found a perfect outlet in the impeccable Chamber Orchestra of Europe. The ensemble, equipped here with a smaller string section than you’ll hear in most Sibelius cycles, brings out previously unheard nuances in these seven masterpiece of late Romanticism. These iconic readings, brimming with emotion and intensity, are now available on video and streaming 24/7 on medici.tv.