There is something that Berio's Sinfonia and Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms have in common, and that is the musical gesture: both of these compositions originate from the desire to reinvent a relationship between voices and instruments, between choir and orchestra, rediscovering sound as a medium to guide the form. It is therefore understandable why Pablo Heras-Casado chose to propose them to the Santa Cecilia audience in the same programme, alongside the 1945 suite from Stravinsky's ballet The Firebird, a piece also rewritten and refined several times by its composer.  

Pablo Heras-Casado conducts Theatre of Voices
© ANSC | Musacchio, Ianniello & Pasqualini

In Berio's Sinfonia, the strength of that sound gesture failed to bear full fruit, and to emerge with the necessary concreteness at certain points in the composition. After an excellent, whispered introduction, the third section began to lack the vitality needed to approach the grand finale. Heras-Casado conducted well with the alternation of colours, but held back the rhythms – which were never too lively. The result was a performance that often lacked the emphasis and the attention to detail that allowed us to appreciate Berio's sound statements. Nevertheless, the Danish ensemble Theatre of Voices offered a pleasant, accurate performance, proving their ease with Berio's writing. 

Pablo Heras-Casado, Theatre of Voices and the Santa Cecilia Chorus and Orchestra
© ANSC | Musacchio, Ianniello & Pasqualini

For the Symphony of Psalms, Heras-Casado seemed to be more at ease: of the Alleluja – an excellent performance by the Coro dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, prepared by Piero Monti – in a reading of clean and calm beauty, airy in its dynamics and soft in its sound. The final effect was a more fresh and focused performance than the Berio, although still lacking a more defined interpretative and imaginative touch.  

The Coro e Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
© ANSC | Musacchio, Ianniello & Pasqualini

After these tricky musical pages, we came to the third part of the concert, Stravinsky's Firebird. Of the instrumental solos that occurred between the dances of the Firebird and the Infernal dance of King Kashchei, Heras-Casado delighted in wide melodic arcs, breaths and soft sounds. He guided the orchestra through refined dawn colours of pianissimos, right up to the solo accompaniment of the bassoon and the horn of the finale's theme: it was a thrill of precision, destined to flow without hesitation into the most famous firestorm in the history of music.   

At the end of the evening, the audience may have brought home more of this finale than the rest of the programme, but I think they will also remember the image of a conductor attached to softness of the orchestra's sound: perhaps not very gestural and emphatic, but generous nonetheless.