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GSP Records

Four Seasons (Si Ji)
Wang HUIRAN (arr. Yang)
1. Y Dance [5:56]
2. Shepherd Boy with flute [2:58]
Intonation 4 Sound-and-Image Compositions
3. Intonation [2:00]
4. Long out-stretched Pier with its Shadows [2:27]
5. Wind on The Hill [1:39]
6. Waiting for Guests [1:41]
7. Land Circus [1:55]
8. Heavenly Bird [1:11]
9. Lantern Song [1:43]
10. Mayila [2:14]
11. Meditation No. 2 [2:05]
12. Meditation No. 1 [1:19]
Stephen GOSS
13. The Blue Kite [4:01]
14. Yellow Earth [4:28]
15. Farewell My Concubine [2:38]
I Ching
16. 1 T’ai [2:08]
17. 3 Lin [3:06]
18. 4 T’ung Jen [1:17]
19. 5 Huan [1:44]
20. 6 K’uei [2:40]
21. 7 Chieh [3:43]
Stephen Funk PEARSON
22. South China Sea Peace [4:59]
Four Seasons
23. Spring [2:01]
24. Summer [1:50]
25. Autumn [2:19]
26. Winter [2:53]
Xuefei Yang, guitar
Rec. AC Studio, San Francisco. No date given


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In this writer’s “perfect world” of recorded guitar music, new releases would constitute new and relatively less familiar music; comprise a balanced and enjoyable programme; be exceptionally well performed and exhibit high levels of technical and sonic excellence.

Si Ji (Four Seasons) by the Chinese guitarist Xuefei Yang fulfils all these criteria. It also adds another unique dimension; no other guitarist has ever made a recording quite like this one. This recent release is her second for the GSP label.

Written by the guitarist, the notes that accompany this recording are generally very informative but totally devoid of any information about the artist herself. This could not be attributed to a ”high” profile in the classical guitar world. To a select group of individuals she will be revered but to aficionados at large she is yet to become famous. Xuefei Yang’s website has more personal details but we are not made privy to her birth date which, based on the intelligence provided, we assume was in the early 1980s(?) Ms. Yang was born in Beijing and began playing guitar at the age of seven from which time, until she was ten, tuition was received from Chen Zhi. During her school years she played extensively in China, Hong Kong, Macau, Spain, Australia and gave concerts in Taiwan, Japan and Portugal.

Aged eleven she won second prize in the Beijing Senior Guitar competition, being the only child competitor. The composer Joaquín Rodrigo attended her debut concert in Madrid when she was only 14 years old.

Since 2000 she has been in England studying with Michael Ewin, John Mills and Timothy Walker at the Royal Academy of Music. In 2002 she graduated with distinction, achieving a Recital Diploma, and was awarded the Dip. RAM. She won the Dorothy Grinstead Prize for a recital at Fairfield Hall, Croydon and received the Principal’s Prize for exceptional all-round student, the highest performance award conferred by the Royal Academy of Music.

The review disc is “China” inspired. The music contains ideas from the East that have helped in exploring and enriching what is essentially Western music. Interestingly the majority of the music featured is from the pens of Western composers.

Four Seasons by Thierry Rougier, also the name of this new release, is a composition of four movements each bearing the name of one of the seasons [23-26]. Ms. Yang received this work from the composer early in 2004. Rougier is a guitarist whose music has been influenced by South America and the South of France where he has lived. Having close contact with Chinese instrumentalists his music is inspired by the sound of the pipa, erhu and sheng. In “The Seasons” he has tried to imitate the colourful sound of these instruments while using a lot of guitaristic techniques. The four pieces are written in the shang mode (one of the Chinese pentatonic scales) with the third string of the guitar tuned down from G to F sharp.

Carlo Domeniconi is an Italian guitarist/composer who spent many years living and teaching in Istanbul. He met Ms. Yang in 2002 and soon after decided to write music inspired by I Ching (The Book of Change). The I Ching occupies a special place in the world’s great books of philosophy. Not only is it one of the oldest surviving books, but it also depicts a view of the world, which is completely out of the ordinary. Everything exists in a “state of change” where time is the essence of life. Ms. Yang chose to record six of the seven pieces [16-21] from the suite, which Domeniconi finished for her in 2003.

Stephen Funk Pearson’s parents are musicians. He experimented with many instruments before finally deciding to dedicate his attention to the guitar. He studied philosophy, music and composition at Vassar (USA). With an unusual musical background Pearson has developed into a very individual composer. When approached regarding a “China-inspired” album he became very intrigued with the ideas and contributed “ South China Sea Peace” [22]. This is for solo “prepared” guitar. An additional saddle is placed on the fingerboard under the strings, in effect giving the guitar two sets of six strings- two different tunings and sounds at the same time. Some of the pitches are not perfect and this becomes part of the character of the piece. It is rather tricky to sight-read because of the unusual tunings - the guitar sounds like a koto.

In 1934 the Russian composer/pianist Tcherepnine organised a competition for collecting Chinese-style compositions. “Shepherd Boy with Flute” by He Luting won the first prize. The composer used the A-B-A form. The “A” section is the cheerful sound of the flute, while the “B” is a folk dance. His use of polyphony effectively enhances the Chinese melody of the flute. Ms Yang, who has also studied piano for several years, did the arrangement for guitar appearing on this disc. Players who have come to the guitar from playing other instruments often display another dimension of excellence in their playing not characteristic of those who play the guitar exclusively. Other examples include Alexander Sergei Ramirez initially a cellist and Dutch guitarist Enno Voorhorst, an enthusiastic violin and viola player.

The technical facility displayed on this disc is often breathtaking and reminiscent of the Japanese master Kazuhito Yamashita. There is great strength, clarity and precision in her playing and few guitarists can replicate the tremolo speed and evenness that Ms Yang displays [19].

The beautiful tone achieved is, in part, a direct result of the guitarist “practising what she preaches” Her advice is that an artist choosing an instrument should not be pre-occupied with the label or price but select one which complements the individual’s style of playing.

A list of instruments Ms Yang has played/owned reads like a “Who’s Who” of luthiery: Masaru Khono, Mario Gropp, Antonio Raya Pardo, Jose Romanillos, Herman Hauser, Antonio Marin Mondero. After hearing her concert in 1995 John Williams “left” his Smallman guitar with her. The instrument used on the review disc was made in 2003 by Greg Smallman, and Ms Yang enthusiastically describes it as fantastic. Unequivocally this instrument is highly complementary to both the music and the guitarist’s style of playing.

This disc is beautifully recorded with an amazing “life-like” presence. A word of warning: the dynamic range is so wide that high volume settings on initial soft passages can damage speakers when loud passages occur.

No review can do justice to this fine and unique recording. Only by personal audition can an awareness of its beauty and uniqueness be acquired. It is unreservedly recommended and definitely not to be missed.

Zane Turner





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