Monday 30 September 2013

Planet Hugill in Hamburg: Sven Helbig and the Faure Quartett

Svein Helbig
Svein Helbig
Sven Helbig and the Faure Quartett (Dirk Mommertz - piano, Erika Geldsetzer - violin, Sascha Frömbling - viola and Konstantin Heidrich  - cello) appeared at Fliegende Bauten as part of the Reeperbahn Festival in Hamburg on Friday 27 September to play Helbig's Pocket Symphonies.

The venue of Helbig and the Faure Quartett's concert as a huge circus tent which normally houses cabaret and other entertainment. Sitting at cabaret-style tables, the audience was large and enthusiastic, though the venue wasn't full and people came and went freely. Dramatically lit and dressed in black, the quartet were joined on-stage by Helbig who controlled lighting and sound via a series of consoles, mixing in synthesized sound and even contributing the occasional note on a glockenspiel.

Helbig's Pocket Symphonies are a group of 12 short works written specially for the Faure Quartett and scored for quartet plus orchestra. I have reviewed their Cd of the works, where they were joined by the MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra and conductor Kirstjan Jarvi. For their performance at the Reeperbahn Festival, Helbig introduced the synthesised elements instead of the orchestra, a portable solution for live performance which is a relatively new development I understand.

When I heard the Faure Quartett playing some of the Pocket Symphonies live in London, it was for a short, acoustic set. Here they were amplified, the first time I had heard them so perform. We started with background ambient noise and sampling, then Mommertz' piano came in. The amplification made the piano sound harder edged and more percussive, an effect which Helbig used in many of the pieces. The quartet sound was very full and very up front, their playing at all times rather intense. The joy of Helbig's Pocket Symphonies is the way he combines, magpie like, elements such as Astor Piazolla, Bach and well wrought polyphony into something evocative and rather appealing.

The amplification made the music more full on, and in some movements brought in significant synthesised backing to heighten the atmosphere. Though the balance was nicely judged, with the live performers being to the fore. This isn't chill out music, Helbig requires concentration from his audience but the short duration of each movement reflected the way music is presented in popular culture.

Throughout, the playing of the quartet was of a very strong order, being so highly amplified put their technique fully into the spotlight, and we were not disappointed.

There were some stunning high energy moments and the penultimate movement had the most full synthesised contribution making for some very exciting textures, but the final movement was quieter, a wistful solo for Frömbling's viola to send us on our way content.

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