Sojourn: The Very Best of Xuefei Yang (CD review)

Xuefei Yang, guitar. Elias String quartet; Eiji Oue, Orquestra Simphonica de Barcelona I Nacional de Catalunya. Warner Classics 2564 63662-1.

If you’re already a fan of Chinese classical guitarist Xuefei Yang, you probably won’t need this “Best of” album because no doubt you already have all the albums from which Warner Classics took the selections here. However, you are not familiar with Ms. Yang’s work, Sojourn: The Very Best of Xuefei Yang might be a great place to start.

Born in 1977 in Beijing, Ms. Yang started playing the guitar at the age of seven. By age ten, she was studying under the guidance of Chen Zhi, the Chairman of the China Classical Guitar Society. She made her initial public performance at the First China International Guitar Festival, and from there began winning various international prizes and awards. Subsequently, she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the Central Conservatory of Music, going on to become the first Chinese guitarist to study in the United Kingdom and the first guitarist to receive an international scholarship from the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music for her postgraduate programme at the Royal Academy of Music in London, graduating in 2002. She has been performing on the concert stage and recording for EMI (now Warner Classics) ever since.

Among the first things one notices about Ms. Yang’s playing is that it appears lighter, airier, more ethereal and delicate than many of her rivals. You won’t quite find the same kind of brawny musicianship you get with Julian Bream, John Williams, Milos Karadaglic, David Russell, Andres Segovia, or any of the Romeros. And one must count that a good thing; Ms. Yang is her own person, with her own style, casting her own magical spells on the listener. Certainly, she’s cast that spell far and wide if her record sales are any indication. So, in Sojourn you get a pretty good idea of what the appeal of her musicianship is all about.

Ms. Yang seems to have a penchant for sweet, romantic tones, amply demonstrated in the opening number, Bach's Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring. It comes off very beautifully but more delightful than contemplative. Next, we hear Bach's Siciliano, a transcription from the Harpsichord Concerto in E. Again, Yang takes a smooth, graceful approach, certainly lovely but not entirely as biting or incisive as I would have liked. Obviously, personal taste is going to matter even more in appreciating Ms. Yang's guitar interpretations than it does in admiring many other kinds of performances.

And so it goes, each track apparently chosen for its comforting, spiritual qualities in order to sell new listeners on the beauty of Ms. Yang's view of music. Bach's Air on a G String from the Second Orchestral Suite, for instance, sounds as gentle as a feather, as does Bach's Prelude in C.

Perhaps best of all, though, and benefiting the most from Ms. Yang's manner of playing are the items taken from older Chinese works: The Butterfly Lovers, Plum Blossoms in the Snow, and others. They are quite delicious. I also enjoyed her playing of various Spanish pieces, among them Tarrega's Recuerdos de la Alhambra, Albeniz's Tango, and Rodrigo's Adagio from the Concierto de Aranjuez. Maybe it's all in the material, and maybe it's just me and I prefer Spanish music on the guitar. I dunno. Still, there are times when Ms. Yang's approach is just a tad too sentimental for my liking, but that's just me. Others will find it dreamily intoxicating, I'm sure.

The sound, recorded between 2006 and 2012, varies, of course, but not very much given that the tracks derive from a number of different recording sessions and venues over a decade or so of recording. Some of the selections sound a little soft, warm, and dry to me, but most of them sound rich, clear, and pleasantly resonant.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on the Big Jon and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simpleminded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my cell phone. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa