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Sketches of China

Xuefei Yang (guitar), et al; (Decca)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Sketches of China
Solo, duo and orchestral works by Wei Qu, Guang Ren, Changjun Xu, Yi Chen, Tan Dun et al
Xuefei Yang (guitar); Weiliang Zhang (xiao), Sha Yuan (guzheng); Xiamen Philharmonic Orchestra/Renchang Fu
Decca 481 9139   175:01 mins (2 discs)


The modern classical guitar boasts origins in many ancient cultures in Europe and beyond. While Spain and to a lesser extent Latin America became its epicentre in the 20th century, in the 21st its reach has continued to grow, helped by a repertoire that embraces a gamut of styles from traditional folk to modernist abstract. New audiences are fast emerging in China, where Xuefei Yang has been a brilliant pioneer. Having established her performing credentials worldwide, she now seeks to open a door into Chinese music ancient and modern, in the process exploring affinities between east and west and expanding the guitar repertoire.

This picturesque release comprises a mixture of new works and transcriptions by several Chinese composers and arrangers, the latter including Yang herself. Their ensemble range includes guitar and orchestra (the Xiamen Philharmonic, with Renchang Fu as conductor/composer/arranger), but more eloquent are the many solos and intimate duos in which Yang variously partners with Weiliang Zhang (xiao) and Yuan Sha (guzheng). Most striking of these are Hujia (arranged by Zhang) a melancholic Han dynasty reflection on a woman’s abduction, and Eternal Longing (arranged by Sha) with its depiction of friendship in soulful, tremolo guitar-guzheng interplay.

Everywhere Yang’s playing combines lightning quickness with subtlety of command, the details crystal clear and invested with myriad colours. From the pensive, traditional White Snow in the Spring Sunlight to Tan Dun’s boldly assertive Seven Desires(2002), the solos are astutely chosen and stylishly delivered.


Steph Power