Yang now records exclusively for EMI and the review disc
is her second for that label. The first, Romance de
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
), 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
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
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,
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;
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
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
Aficionados of fine music, irrespective of specific
disposition, will not be disappointed by this excellent