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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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” .
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.
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.
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 .
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.
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.
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.
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.