I have often been puzzled about what happened to German and Austrian classical music. After all, Germany and Austria are the homes of classical music. But after Korngold (born 1897) and Orff (born 1895), virtual silence! (that's if we exclude the meretricious 'university' music which no one loves, and which sounds as if it is stuck in the pre 1914 world).
So is Helbig the one to move German music into the twenty first century? Well it is certainly the first German music I ever heard which actually SOUNDS like it was written during my life time. That is a huge step forward in itself.
Some of this is very good indeed. I would recommend you try 'Rise', the eleventh of these Pocket Symphonies. 'Rise' exhibits tremendous energy and creative fertility, with endlessly varying rhythms, spicy and occasionally discordant harmonies. It is music which constantly dances, in a wonderful manner which reminded me of Michael Tippett.
Some of the other Pocket Symphonies pay homage to Helbig's Austrian and German predecessors. 'A Tear' has a final chord reminiscent of Strauss's 'Metamorphosen', and the spirit of the last movement of Mahler 9 is not too far away either. In 'Autumn Song', which I especially loved, the echoes are of Berg. And elsewhere the shade of Bach rises his head - for example in the wonderful fast piano solos of 'Frost'.
The orchestration is quite unusual, enabling Helbig to create his own sound world. There is much beautiful writing for solo strings and piano, and the glockenspiel (I think) has a starring role too. The sound and harmony is a little 'fatter' than many other contemporary composers, which gave it a nice German accent.
This is music that requires repeated and careful listening. I am sure some will dismiss it without making that effort. For example, the review in 'Gramophone' magazine was rather condescending. It is true that not every Pocket Symphony is as good as the ones listed above - 'Zorn' sounds cheesy and bombastic to my ears, and 'Am Abend' feels a bit lightweight too.
Overall though, this represents a good start for Helbig and is certainly recommended. The beautiful tune in Eisenhuettenstadt (another fast piece) is haunting me constantly.
PS If anyone knows any other contemporary sounding German music which I missed, please pass the tip on!