Concert Review: Xuefei Yang in Seattle, WA

Editors Note: This is a guest post from Rich Fong. Rich a resident of the Seattle area, a guitarist, and a regular Classical Guitar Blog reader.

Xuefei Yang played a recital last night, November 10th, at the Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall in Seattle. Her program:

J S Bach: Lute Partita in E, BWV 1006A

Giulio Regondi: Reverie Nocturne, Op 19

Leo Brouwer: Sonata


Stephen Goss: The Chinese Garden

Isaac Albeniz: Espana, Seis Hojas de Album, Op 165

Francisco Tarrega: Carnival of Venice

Looking resplendent in a champagne colored one shouldered floor length gown, Ms. Yang opened with a knock-out performance of the Lute Partita. From the opening figure she was in total control. Her Bach was excellently paced and phrased. I was particularly impressed with her separation of the voices in the countrapuntal passages. She articulated the ornaments in the Loure a bit differently than I’d heard in the past (my reference point being John Williams’ recording), but it was very moving and effective.

I wasn’t at all familiar with either Regondi or his Reverie, but I’m going to seek out a recording straight off. What an amazing piece. According to the program, Regondi was a prodigy known as the “Infant Paganini” but after his death his compositions were regarded as too diffiult and faded into obscurity. That didn’t phase Ms. Yang. The opening section sounds like it could have been written by Liszt, with an assist from Chopin. The second section, which the notes said might well have been the first guitar composition using tremolo, was simply gorgeous, a melody evoking a Venetian Gondolier’s song. Her tremolo was stunning, providing a shimmering melody over a wandering bass line.

She then played the Brouwer Sonata, which she’d originally planned for the second half. This piece is to me just plain fun to listen to, and she looked like she was just plain having fun playing it. There are not a lot of melodies you end up humming to yourself afterwards, but it leaves you thinking a bit about the guitar and it’s possibilities. This actually brought the subject of her guitar to mind. Was it the hall, her playing, or the guitar itself—a Smallman I believe—but I felt here she could have used more volume from the bass.

The second half of the program began with with Stephen Goss’ “The Chinese Garden,” a suite of four pieces based on traditional Chinese folk themes. Last time she was in Seattle, Ms. Yang played some different Goss compositions—then introduced him–he was sitting in the back of the Hall. Being of Chinese descent, I’ve long enjoyed hearing ethnic folk themes transcribed for the guitar. These pieces, which are on her “40 Degrees North” CD, are effective showpieces, with numerous charming tunes coming and going throughout.

Next up was the Albeniz suite, which, like the Suite Espanola, paints a number of contrasting pictures of different scenes from Spain. The highlights for me were a powerful Malaguena, and an evocative Caprichio Catalan.

She closed the program with a Tarrega’s Carnival of Venice. It’s an engaging crowd pleaser, but seems to me to be a bit like just Tarrega screwing around and showing off how many different ways he can twist a simple theme around. Still, the piece is fun to listen to, but even more fun to watch a great player perform.

Ms. Yang played two encores. The first, a piece I was hoping to hear, was her transcription of the “Yi Dance.” The Yi tribe is one of China’s ethnic minorities. The first time I heard this theme it was played by a pipa player in Isaac Stern’s excellent documentary “From Mao to Mozart,” circa late 70’s. Ms. Yang’s transcription covers a lot of ground, literally, always coming back to the haunting main theme.

The second was Gerald Garcia’s arrangement of another catchy Chinese folk tune, “Plum Blossoms in the Snow,” another piece she clearly had a great time playing. I’m struck by two things: First, how much Chinese folk tunes arranged for the guitar sound like they’d fit right in with American west, frontier type movies. Second, that they’ve been so beautifully transcribed or composed for guitar by Stephen Goss (Welsh), Dietmar Ungerrank (Austrian) and Gerald Garcia (Hong Kong born, educated and living in Oxford).

Posted on in Classical Guitar Concert Reviews


  • Mikkel

    It sounds like a really good recital! It seems like she has matured a lot the last couple of years playing a lot less known pieces, now she just has to get rid of her smallman (just my opinion of course :)).

  • Rich Fong

    Jeff… Very constructive comment. You offer no opinion of your own, just a link to a short blurb from someone who didn’t even attend the same concert. Like I said, very constructive. Thanks for participating.

  • Jeff Lowe

    I dislike candy comments… that’s all.

    Yes a performer can be good, but that still doesn’t mean that they need a candy review. Talk about culture, cultural context, interpretative choice or something interesting.

    Only beginners write about stuff like “She then played the Brouwer Sonata”, “This piece is to me just plain fun to listen to”, “There are not a lot of melodies you end up humming to yourself afterwards, but it leaves you thinking a bit about the guitar and it’s possibilities.” etc.

    PS: But Xuefei Yang is not good. (My opinion of course. You’re entitled to yours and I value and respect it as yours.)

  • Rich Fong

    If you do indeed respect my opinion you certainly have a strange way of verbalizing it. I think you need to learn to express yourself a little more maturely.

  • Michael Lottin
    Michael Lottin

    Interesting comments.

    I believe writing a quality review, is in itself an art.
    There are superb collections of musical critiques that were written in previous periods. Look at the critiques that Berlioz wrote for example.

    As to guitar-centric critiques…
    they are just that: miserably guitar-centric and serve to show the very smallish world that most guitarists live in.

    Any comments relating to “culture, cultural context, interpretative choice or something interesting” to quote Jeff, are almost always lacking in guitar reviews. And up till recently, it was customary to give the kind of candy reviews that Jeff refers to.
    In other words: only superficial content and praise.

    This is a rather terrible state of affairs. Most guitarists today are miserable, and true critiques and reviews should be cleverly written to show this.

    The minimum quality that I expect of reviews, is the following by Peter Baker:

  • David Leadbetter
    David Leadbetter

    Xuefei Yang is superb and is encouraging many people to love the classical guitar and its music. She is technically brilliant but more importantly communicates a love of the music she plays and the instrument itself. She is above the criticism she is receiving here.

  • Williams Doyle
    Williams Doyle

    I’m sorry to say that I disagree. I saw Xuefei give a concert with a non-guitarist friend, and she did not like it.
    At the time I thought this odd, seeing how Xuefei plays so brilliant technically and with conviction.

    But today I have to concur with my non-guitarist friend. I dislike many of Xuefei’s playing choices, and see them as being culturally distorted (meaning for example: when she plays “El condor Pasa” she has no idea how to interpret it truthfully and with cultural reference!).

    Some more examples: I dislike Opera-singers playing pulsating pop-songs. I dislike Chinese guitarists playing Paganini. (I also utterly dislike Fisk playing Paganini – just by the way!)

    That said, I do want to mention that Xuefei’s performance of Barrios’s Un Sueno en la Floresta is truly stunning, and does indeed have good phrasing, voice-command and a love that makes it worth my while experiencing her interpretation.