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Live Report: Sven Helbig in Hamburg
Brian Coney , October 15th, 2018 12:55

Looks great, sounds better: when German classical-electronic music meets German classical-technical venue

The architectural fever dream of Swiss architectural duo Herzog & de Meuron, the glass-encased ‘Elphie’ (as Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie is affectionately known) is built on a huge brick warehouse and surrounded on three sides by the waters of the city’s busy harbour. Inside, its central auditorium thwarts comparison; tonight, the genre-contorting craft of German composed Sven Helbig, backed by his Forrklang Quartett, reveals the rigour and fidelity that perhaps justify the building being completed six years late and three times over budget.

Entering via Europe’s longest escalator, the main venue is a glistening ivory cavern made up of 10,000 gypsum fibre acoustic panels on wave-like walls, balustrades and ceiling. And it’s hard to imagine an artist more suited to eke out the room’s potential than 50-year-old Helbig. A composer and producer bridging classical and electronic traditions (not to mention an arranger with artists as diverse as Rammstein, Pet Shop Boys and Snoop Dogg), his collaboration with Forrklang Quartett tonight runs the gamut from gossamer nuance to tympanum-rattling swells. From the yearning rise and fall of opener ‘Am Abend’ to the soaring symphony of encore ‘Sing For The Moment’, it’s in the push and pull of dynamics, between Helbig's undulating low bass drones on the likes of ‘Como El Sol’ and the Forrklang Quartett's orchestral flourishes where one gets a full sense of the Elphie’s superlative acoustics.

Having combusted on ‘Tres Momentos’ – during which carousel-like lights suddenly dazzle from the walls and ceiling – Helbig’s decision to bow out via two restrained peaks from his 2013 album Pocket Symphonies (‘Bell Sound Falling Like Snow’ and ‘Schlaflied’) works wonders. Having laid bare the phonic nooks that mirror Elbphilharmonie’s structural finesse, it’s a chance to revel in the remarkable subtlety of his work and the remarkable acoustics of this venue.