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40 Degrees North
Isaac ALBENIZ (1860-1909)
Sevilla [4:41]; Cordoba [7:00]; Castilla [3:32]
Stephen GOSS (b.1964)
The Chinese Garden
: Jasmine Flower [4:03]; Red flowers blooming all over the mountain [2:22]; Blue Orchid [2:58]
Francisco TARREGA (1852-1909)
Variations on the Carnival of Venice [8:09]
He Zhanhao (b. 1933)/Chen Gang (b. 1935)
Violin Concerto "The Butterfly Lovers" [8:43]
Enrique GRANADOS (1867-1916)
Valses Poeticos: Introduccion [1:16]; Vals melodico [1:42]; Vals apasionado [1:34]; Vals lento [2:00]; Vals humoristico [0:58]; Vals brillante [1:41]; Vals sentimental [1:28]; Vals mariposa [0:53]; Vals ideal [3:06]
Wang Huiran (b.1936)
Yi Dance [6:37]
Huang Zi (1904-1938)
Plum blossoms in the snow [2.09]
Wang Luobin (1913-1996)
A La Mu Han
Xuefei Yang (guitar)
rec. 19-22 January 2008 , Holy Trinity Church, Weston, Hertfordshire.
EMI CLASSICS 2063222 [67:43]
Experience Classicsonline

Xuefei Yang now records exclusively for EMI and the review disc is her second for that label. The first, Romance de Amor, was a hard act to follow. Based on the current offering, it was also a harbinger of fine things to follow.
The programme is a selection of Xuefei’s favourites: music from her native China and from the pen of Spanish composers to which she listened after the Cultural Revolution ban on Western music and instruments, was lifted. The Spanish items are all piano music by Albeniz and Granados, transcribed for guitar, with one exception: Tarrega’s, Variations on the Carnival of Venice. The remainder comprises music based on original Chinese themes and arrangements for the guitar of traditional Chinese pieces.
As in her recording, Four Seasons (Si Ji), GPS 1028CD, Xuefei Yang pursues music with a Chinese flavour; what beautiful and beguiling titles some of the pieces selected have. Her ambition is to establish within the guitar repertory, music of this genre. For those interested, Si Ji has also been reviewed in this forum (see review).
Aside from her love of this music, the programme has additional association reflected in the title of the review disc - ‘40 Degrees North.’ The capitals of both Spain and China are positioned near latitude 40 degrees North.
One quickly establishes that Xuefei Yang is a master illusionist: everything she performs gives the quite erroneous impression that it is easy to play because it is executed with apparently consummate ease. Xuefei is not the only guitarist from the younger generation with a formidable technique. She is, however, one that possesses the musical maturity to exercise restrained technical bravura, and not compromise musical interpretation for the sake of showy pyrotechnics.
In his biography, A Life on the Road, Julian Bream noted: ‘When I came across an audience that are enthusiastic about my playing, to the point of fanaticism, as they are in Japan for instance, I really begin to worry. I begin to wonder what it is they are so enthusiastic about. The music? Or the guitar?’
During the latter part of his career, the great Spanish master Jose Luis Gonzalez (1932-1998) gave extensive concert tours and master classes every two years in Japan. He observed many highly competent technicians, but was preoccupied with the lack of musicality displayed by many. This phenomenon is not unique to the Japanese, but a general one among guitarists also identified by such luminaries as John Williams.
Xuefei Yang has the ability to play very quickly and accurately, but one is left with the impression that the music is first and the guitar second; that is one component that helps makes her an outstanding guitarist. Her interpretation of Spanish music may not be to all tastes but it is executed with empathy and great skill.
Now resident in London, Xuefei was born in Beijing just after the Cultural Revolution. In the absence of an exact birth date, we may safely assume that she is now in her late twenties.
From the ages of seven to ten, she studied guitar with famed Professor Chen Zhi. During her school years, she played extensively in China, Hong Kong, 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. Her debut concert in Spain, when she was only fourteen, was attended by Joaquín Rodrigo.
In 2000 she commenced studies in the UK with Michael Ewin, John Mills and Timothy Walker at the Royal Academy of Music, graduating with distinction in 2002. She achieved a Recital Diploma and was awarded the Dip. RAM.
There is one very interesting, and from this writer’s experience unique, aspect about this recording: in the execution of the twenty tracks, instruments from the hands of four different luthiers are used. Tracks 1-3, 18: Jose Ramirez Elite Model 2006; tracks 4-6, 8: Greg Smallman, Australia, 2003; tracks 7, 9-17: Ignacio Fleta, Spain 1986; track 19: Michael Gee, UK ,2001.
Xuefei Yang also used two different instruments on her recording Romance de Amor, (EMI 3767142; see review).
Different instruments are chosen because each complements a certain piece of music in a particularly superior way. It is not uncommon for guitarists to employ two different guitars on one recording, but four is surely a record!
Ms. Yang has always been a strong advocate of players selecting an instrument based on its suitability for the individual rather than purely on reputation of excellence. Her past stable of instruments include those by Masaru Khono, Mario Gropp, Antonio Raya Pardo, Jose Romanillos, Herman Hauser and Antonio Marin Mondero.
In many recordings the sounds made by individual guitars are distinctive and often identifiable. The formidable technique with which Xuefei Yang plays and the extent to which she is able to extract the maximum that each instrument has to offer, results in a rather unpredictable outcome. Even with high quality reproducing equipment and concentrated listening effort, the sound difference between the instruments is marginal. Were details not provided in the liner-notes, there is every possibility that differences may be attributed to recording procedures, and the presence of four different instruments not detected. The instrument by Michael Gee is the most distinctive, and the difference between the other three marginal, despite the Smallman instrument being radically different in construction. What one would experience in a live concert environment may be totally different?
It is gratifying to note that since her first recording for EMI, much more attention has been paid to the overall presentation of the review disc. Black and red writing on a white background can be easily read by most - in contrast to white on fawn. Information on the composers is supplied and details on the instruments played are of great interest to guitar players, many of whom will devour this disc. We are even made privy to the date and location of the recording- small, but important professional details.
Aficionados of fine music, irrespective of specific disposition, will not be disappointed by this excellent recording.
Zane Turner


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