Symphonic Shades -Hülsbeck in Concert- (English)

Symphonic Shades - Hülsbeck in Concert Album Title:
Symphonic Shades – Hülsbeck in Concert
Record Label:
synSONIQ Records
Catalog No.:
Release Date:
December 17, 2008 (1st Edition); May 20, 2009 (2nd Edition)
Buy at MAZ Sound Tools


On August 23, 2008, Symphonic Shades – Hülsbeck in Concert celebrated the music of Commodore 64 and Amiga legend Chris Hülsbeck in two concerts in Cologne. The concert was inspired and organised by Symphonic Game Music Concert series producer Thomas Boecker, who wanting to offer a tribute to the man who provided him with so many enjoyable early musical experiences. He directed Jonne Valtonen to arrange and orchestrate 14 of Hülsbeck’s most significant compositions for the concert. The choices ranged from classics such as The Great Giana Sisters and Turrican II to more obscure pieces like Tower of Babel and Licht am Ende des Tunnels. The approaches to the arrangements were also diverse and ensured a colourful and emotional experience within a distinctive orchestral setting. Conducted by the award-winning Arnie Roth, Valtonen’s scores were performed in concert by the eminent and experienced WDR Radio Orchestra, FILMharmonic Choir Prague, and several soloists. Following the glorious commercial and critical success of the concerts, Symphonic Shades received a limited edition album release. It will provide a phenomenal musical experience for fans of melodic game music and those who enjoy mature orchestral productions alike.


Symphonic Shades is announced by an impressive fanfare based on the title theme for Grand Monster Slam. The elaborate Williams-esque arrangement features a sequence of brass fluorishes and increasingly dazzling woodwind decoration. The numerous brass instruments are perfectly synchronised despite their complex interactions and provide an early indication of the technical prowess and vibrant sound of the WDR Radio Orchestra under Arnie Roth. The sophisticated sound of Symphonic Shades is reinforced by several other cinematically inclined items. While written early in Hülsbeck’s career, Tower of Babel is an especially commanding piece of action music; the orchestral treatment stays close to Hülsbeck’s original intentions while offering the power and intricacy of a full orchestra. In contrast, the gradual thematic development and glorious choral performance of R-Type captures all the emotions of old Hollywood adventure scores. Even more memorably, Valtonen ensures the Zimmer-esque Tunnel B1 is compatible with orchestra while maintaining the edge of the original. Rony Barrak’s darbuka performance, including his jaw dropping introductory solo, adds to the percussive thrust and ethnic flavour.

Valtonen ensures that Symphonic Shades is a diverse yet cohesive listening experience with numerous ambitious offerings. The main theme of X-Out showcases the FILMharmonic Choir Prague interpreting authentic Latin lyrics in conjunction with modernist orchestration. As the piece moves through several sections, their performance changes from being haunting to enchanting to ferocious. Valtonen’s choir writing is always exquisite and refreshing, especially the use of unusual sounds such as threatening hisses and electrically inspired articulations. Gem’X is one of the most intellectually fulfilling arrangements since it is inspired by certain minimalist compositions; numerous one bar boxes are manipulated and assembled to generate polyrhythms and unusual harmonies. The serene and meditative sound is completed by different fragments of the melody being continually sung on strings and brass. Even within the arrangements there is an impressive amount of variety due to different sections or themes being exposed — whether the lyrical reflective string-led interlude of the opening fanfare, the delightful dramatic turn in the second half of X-Out, or the gentle rendition of the love theme in the Turrican 3 piano suite.

Thomas Boecker took the exuberance of inviting two Japanese Sega legends to arrange a piece each for the first half. Yuzo Koshiro transforms the rock-based main theme of Jim Power in Mutant Power into a varied and flowing orchestral item. He blends impressionistic flavours, Baroque passagework, and brassy sections reminiscent of ActRaiser while remaining faithful to each section of the original. The arrangement was nevertheless orchestrated by Jonne Valtonen and remains as technically impressive and smoothly incorporated as other items. Takenobu Mitsuyoshi’s Apidya II is also rich, but largely because of its great thematic and emotional variety. It transitions from a bright rendition of the famous main theme into an action section with imposing brass and epic Japanese chorus. A further surprise is the second half featuring liberating and triumphant horn and choral interpretations of the delightful ending theme. This suite proves one of the most convincingly crafted of any video game concert — the transitions are both musically elegant and guided by strong human emotions. This feature is true for all the arrangements and further helps to distinguish Symphonic Shades from other concert productions.

Based on the score to a short film, Light am Ende des Tunnels provides a sublime contast to the other material. Most of the arrangement features beautifully performed cello and violin solos that explore the emotions of a person who attempts to take their own life. There are several sections that try to break free and grow only to be diminished to a lonely melody in the wind once again. On the other hand, the concert’s title arrangement focuses on Chris Hülsbeck’s first recognised composition — the catchy, eccentric, and 80s-flavoured “Shades”. Unique additions such as short computer-inspired breaks, jubilant drum kit beats, and even tasteful amounts of C64-inspired synthesizer work ensure a fitting and quirky tribute. However, its bittersweet tone also provides a signal that the end of the concert is approaching. Chris Hülsbeck also composed an original composition specifically for the concert, Karawane der Elefantan. It exhibits a unique Arabian style and inspires amusing imagery of marching elephants while tying together several thematic and stylistic threads of the concert together. It is of central importance in the concert program and will be cherished by many fans.

The interpretation of The Great Giana Sisters is even more spectacular than the other entries in the album. Much like Apidya II, it inspires listeners to experience the journey in the game through musical means — by presenting all the major themes in a series of emotionally contrasting sections. There is an enigmatic piano introduction, a series of exhilarating orchestral build-ups, wacky transitions to reflect the game experience, and surprisingly some very catchy jazzy parts. There’s even a few insider jokes such as a quote from Indiana Jones at the elating ending. It has it all! The rendition of Turrican II is almost certainly the most sophisticated piece of game music ever created. The eight minute piano concertino presents familiar themes from the game in different musical eras. The arrangement transitions from an apocalyptic romantic introduction through impressionist, neo-classical, and classical sections all the way to a grand Mahlerian finish. Every section is convincingly executed by arrangers and performers alike. Furthermore, the transitions are flawless and the piece comes together to form a superb dramatic arch. Valtonen does more than just wow listeners — he creates a legitimate musical masterpiece.

The album offers an improved listening experience compared to the radio broadcast and even the live concerts themselves. Under supervision by Hülsbeck, the CD was expertly mixed and mastered to achieve crystal clear studio sound quality. Apart from well-deserved applauses at the end of three performances, the respectful audience is inaudible throughout the recording. Though the majority of the recordings come from the excellently performed first concert, the best performances from the two concerts and final rehearsals were selected. Recorded at the second concert, the rendition of the opening fanfare on the CD has a faster tempo and hence even more impact and momentum than the performance broadcast on radio. Turrican 3 features a studio piano performance by Benyamin Nuss with the often hard and robotic sound that Valtonen originally intended. Furthermore, the album is very well presented. It features an elegant black design featuring artwork of a conducting Turrican designed by Hitoshi Ariga, an insightful interview by Chris Hülsbeck, and several photographs from the concert. Even without these bonuses, Symphonic Shades is always an enjoyable and fascinating experience to hear in full again.


To put it succinctly, Symphonic Shades – Hülsbeck in Concert is the best orchestral game music album ever created. The sophisticated arrangements and flawless performances feature unforgettable melodies, novel styles, and intense emotions. The album will exceed the expectations of Chris Hülsbeck fans wanting to hear an orchestra perform his great melodies and classic scores. It will also impress those unfamiliar with the composer’s music that enjoy excellent orchestral music — even elite orchestral music critics that would normally disregard all game music. The recording does not compensate for actually attending the concert since it cannot fully recreate the phenomenal atmosphere and visual experience at Cologne. However, the beautiful package features the definitive performances of Valtonen’s incredible arrangements and provides a means to experience them again and again. It will be nostalgic for concert attendees, revealing for those absent, and always a pleasure to revisit. The album is being printed in very limited copies so it is essential to make this purchase as soon as possible. Simply a perfect production all round.

Symphonic Shades -Hülsbeck in Concert- (English) Chris Greening

Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!


Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on July 19, 2016.

About the Author

I've contributed to websites related to game audio since 2002. In this time, I've reviewed over a thousand albums and interviewed hundreds of musicians across the world. As the founder and webmaster of VGMO -Video Game Music Online-, I hope to create a cutting-edge, journalistic resource for all those soundtrack enthusiasts out there. In the process, I would love to further cultivate my passion for music, writing, and generally building things. Please enjoy the site and don't hesitate to say hello!

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