Classical CD Reviews

SVEN HELBIG: “Pocket Symphonies” – Faure Quartet/ MDR Leipzig Radio Sym. – DGG

An introspective and slightly enigmatic meditation on life, memory and truth.

Published on November 4, 2013

SVEN HELBIG:  “Pocket Symphonies” – Faure Quartet/ MDR Leipzig Radio Sym. – DGG

SVEN HELBIG:  “Pocket Symphonies” – Faure Quartet/MDR Leipzig Radio Sym. – DGG 481 039-8, 46 mins. [8/13/13] ****:

12 hours on a clock face
1 complete cycle
2 cycles in a day
1 day in the life
12 meditations on the experience.

The CD notes begin with an introspective and slightly enigmatic meditation on life, memory and truth to set the scene and mood of this disk.

Sven Helbig has worked as a producer, director, composer and arranger working with a diverse range of talents from opera singers, rap artists, metal and pop artists to symphonies and quartets and this work show those diverse elements.

As alluded to in the opening prose this CD is a collection of 12 “symphonies” on various snippets or instances of a life. Akin to a more personal, less structured and subjective version of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition”. Rather than dealing with static works of art Helbig states working with memories where “The Pocket Symphonies are twelve snapshots of a lonesome soul ending a day, twelve evening moods in different colors – between hunger for life and contemplating mortality. This is what a Beethoven piece and a Pet Shop Boys song have in common.”

These are not symphonies in the classic or ridged structural sense, a traditionalist will take umbrage with the liberal use of the definition. Helbig himself states “symphonies become songs”, I found I preferred the term events; but that wouldn’t make as intriguing of a CD title.

All 12 ‘symphonies’ are very accessible; neither an abstract radical technique fest, nor a chameleon of older genres. They are a bit on the conservative side, as they are composed in a contemporary tonal style with influences by the likes of Reich, Glass and the modern pop genre that he works in. All of the ‘symphonies’ are in the three to four minute range, the longest 5:03 and the most brief 2:10, combined they add to a 46 minute runtime.

When I was going to start giving a brief description of each one I discovered a very strange situation; both the listing on Helbig’s website and the jewelbox playlist showed one order, but the playlist being displayed when had it on my computer, with the exception of the last work Schlaflied was different. The listing on the CD jewelbox was correct.

The following are a few of the works that jumped out and caught my attention: Gone - a melancholy and lush string work with a bell like ostinatos, ornamentations and a strong bass line. Frost - a driving work propelled by a relentless string accompaniment rhythm, with woodwind ornaments, and fanfares, and sonorous lines of brass. Am Ambend - a music box like start swelling into a sentimental mood. Eisenhuttenstadt - starting like a gentle rain on a lake as the darker clouds roll through. Autumn song -pizzicato strings and piano set against the slow melody line make up the most dissonant mood which flashes a more harmonious moment before returning. Urban perfume - frenetic strings, insistent percussion, cascading woodwinds and driving brass bring the cityscape into focus. Rise - The piano leads this active work with driving strings and brass flares, giving way to a jaunty mid-section then to rise to its climax.

I like these Pocket Symphonies for all they are and all they are not. They are nice, simple, charming and pocket sized. Yes, the strange mixed up on the on CD track listing is a small blemish on what otherwise is a well put together, clear sounding and finely mixed album. While some may find them too conservative or too simple and or not challenging enough, too “pop” influenced, others will find them engaging and an unpretentious venture into the modern classical sound. I don’t know what acclaim or standing this work will garner in the end, but this will be a CD I will come back to again.

—Darren Robinson




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