Given higher levels
of competence and a commercial recording
opportunity, this writer would not be
the first amateur musician to have contemplated
the ideal programme: something old,
something new, something borrowed and
Viewed from that perspective
the programme offered by Xue Fei Yang
on the review disc must be considered
absolutely ideal. This is particularly
interesting given that her recording
Si Ji (GPS 1028CD) recently reviewed
in this forum is all new and mostly
unfamiliar material with a strong Chinese
Ms. Yang was born in
Beijing and began playing guitar at
the age of seven from which age, 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 Joaquin 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.
In this forum a recent
of Michalis Kontaxakis’s Guitar Recital
(Naxos 8.570191) noted that although
the playing was very capable, overall
it was rather too sedate and exacerbated
by an instrument exhibiting the same
characteristics. The review disc is
the antithesis employing programme items
that reflect a chameleon-like ability
in diverse interpretation and execution
not only from composition to composition
but within individual pieces of music.
Xue Fei Yang is one
of the very finest technicians to be
found on commercial recording. Her interpretations
are serene, sensitive, seductive and
spirited depending on which combinations
the music requires. Ms.Yang’s empathy
for what she plays is such that two
different guitars are used on this particular
recording. An instrument by Greg Smallman
(2003) is used on all tracks except
5, 9, 11 and 15; on these Ms. Yang plays
a guitar by Matthias Dammann (2001).
The technical credentials
displayed in her Si Ji recording
are again strongly evident on the review
disc. Asturias (1) by Albeniz
is played at a very rapid pace but with
clarity and accuracy. In the slow section
there are some pleasing deviations from
the standard Segovia arrangement. The
tremolo playing in Recuerdos de la
Alhambra and Un Sueño
en la Floresta is super-smooth
and again the very best to be heard
Having just come to
grips with Asturias, the
pyrotechnics delivered in Zapateado,
El Colibri and Study No.7
by Villa-Lobos leave one breathless.
The speed, precision and clarity with
which these pieces are executed are
musicians are often criticised for virtuosic
display at the expense of musical content.
One such musician is guitarist Ana Vidovic
but this writer has little empathy for
criticisms of this kind directed at
her. For any who may be tempted to express
similar sentiments about Ms. Yang, a
close audition of her version of I
Believe by Hyung- Seock Kim/ Jae-Sun
Yang (13) is recommended. If you cannot
recall what the melody line in this
composition reminds you of, try the
pop tune Sometimes When We Touch.
Being an avid Beatles
fan and having long admired the beautiful
arrangements for guitar by Toro Takemitsu,
his arrangements of their tunes makes
for irresistible personal appeal. Goran
Söllscher recorded a number of
these on Here There and Everywhere
(DG 447104-2) and more Beatles tunes
on From Yesterday to Penny Lane
(DG 459 668-2). Söllscher is an
excellent guitarist but the spirit of
this music sometimes evades him in much
the same way that popular modern music
is not a strength of John Williams.
The Ms. Yang’s renditions of Michelle
and Cavatina are more in the
spirit of the pieces and more musical
than the versions by either Söllscher
or John Williams.
Well before the availability
of downloads from the Internet, to procure
a particularly revered single track
one may have been forced to buy a whole
CD. An arrangement of La Cumparsita
played by Pepe Romero (Philips 432102-2)
was responsible for this particular
disc becoming part of a personal collection.
As good as it is, both the arrangement
and execution by Ms Yang are superior.
She manages to capture and convey the
spirit of the Tango in a most exciting
and memorable way.
The superior arrangement
of El Condor Pasa (8) is by the master
arranger/guitarist Jorge Morel; many
of his arrangements are like discrete
musical compositions. It is in Ms Yang’s
playing and arrangement of La Cumpasita
that one hears strong echoes of Morel.
Others have played his arrangements
but this is a rare occasion on which
a justifiable comparison with Morel
can be made.
Among the delights
and surprises to be found in this programme,
and one that must not escape comment,
is Lauro’s Seis Pour Derecho
(9). Subtitled ‘al estilo del arpo
venezolana’ - ‘styled after the
Venezuelan harp’ it employs hemiola,
in this instance intriguing alternations
in 3/4 and 6/8 time, characteristic
of much of Lauro’s music Having heard
a number of different renditions of
this, including one live by Alirio Diaz,
I have never before been so acutely
conscious of the beautiful bass accompaniment
rhythms. Ms.Yang skilfully highlights
these in a most complimentary way -
not dominant but just as Lauro would
have intended. While Adam Holtzman (Naxos
8.554348) plays this piece well the
bass detail is relatively subdued.
Romance de Amor
is an early study piece introducing
the student to the upper registers of
the guitar and one that few escape.
There is certainly more ‘romance’ in
the version by Ms. Yang than that that
by Goran Söllscher (DG 413 7201).
Her particularly beautiful rendition
is a reminder of how easy this piece
is to play poorly but how evasively
difficult to play well.
Anak by Aguilar
and arranged for guitar by Kwan/Yang
sounds as if it was extracted from an
album of tunes for the virtuoso folk
guitar. This rather lightweight contribution
is nonetheless enjoyable.
The general presentation
of this release by EMI belies the quality
of what lies inside. Very small white
writing on a pale fawn coloured background
is not user-friendly, and given the
rather unimaginative overall design
could not be excused on that basis.
There is a general paucity of information
and none on the composers represented
in the programme.
Xue Fei Yang is a fine
musician, superb technician and exhibits
refined eclectic taste in the music
she elects to record. This recording
is an outstanding example of the solo
classical guitar at its very best.