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Romance de Amor
Isaac ALBENIZ (1860-1909) Asturias [5:35]; Traditional: Romance de Amor [3:07]; Francisco TARREGA (1852-1909) Recuerdos de la Alhambra [3:53]; Joaquín RODRIGO (1900-1999) Zapateado [2:49]; John LENNON/ Paul McCARTNEY Michelle [3:02]; Stanley MYERS (1933-1993) Cavatina [3:31]; Julios Salvador SAGRERAS (1879-1942) El Colibri [1:07]; Paul SIMON/Daniel ROBLES/Jorge MILCHBERG El Condor Pasa [3:23]; Antonio LAURO (1917-1986) Seis por derecho [3:05]; Agustin Barrios MANGORE (1885-1944) Un Sueno en la Floresta [7:04]; Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959) Etude No. 7 [2:07]; Gerado Hernan Matos RODRIGUEZ (1900-1948) La Cumparsita [2:43]; Hyung Seck KIM/Jae-Sun YANG I Believe [3:25]; Traditional- Sakura [6:32]; Yu-Xian DENG/Lin-Qiu LI Spring Breeze [3:56]; Ferdinand P Freddie AGUILAR Anak [2:40]
Xue Fei Yang (guitar)
rec. no information provided.
EMI CLASSICS 0946 3 70714 2 7 [76:34]

 

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 commercial too.

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 flavour.

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 review 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 anywhere.

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 quite amazing.

Technically gifted 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.

Zane Turner


 



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