40 Degrees North (guitar works)
Xuefei Yang was the first guitarist to graduate from Beijing’s Central Conservatory of Music, after which she attended the Royal Academy of Music in London as the first Chinese classical guitarist to study in the West. This new release goes some way to confirming her as one of the finest of the younger generation of classical guitarists in the world today.
The Albéniz and Granados, both transcribed by Yang, are played with exceptional clarity and a degree of poetry that only Julian Bream’s account of the Valses poéticos can match, while Tárrega’s fun if slightly meretricious Variations on The Carnival of Venice nicely contrasts with pipa master Huiran Wang’s vibrant Yi Dance. Stephen Goss’s superb Chinese Garden is fragrantly evocative; even the mega-schmaltz of the Butterfly Lovers violin concerto is subsumed by Yang’s artistry. And what better way to end than with Gerald Garcia’s arrangement of the folksong “A La Mu Han”, echoing as it does the Prelude from Bach’s First Cello Suite and thus uniting East and West?
“Romance de Amor”, Yang’s first disc for EMI, was hugely successful if not especially imaginative from a programming point of view. “40 Degrees North”, thus titled because of the latitudinal proximity of Beijing – Yang’s birthplace – to Madrid, fares much better on that count. In fact, this is one of the most satisfying and well thought-out classical guitar programmes I’ve heard in a long while, and not just because its musical trajectory is so beautifully managed; Yang’s playing exhibits that kind of subtle intelligence that makes even the most disparate elements seem effortlessly to cohere.