Hi Folks! Well, if you read my last blog post you’ll know that I was eagerly anticipating the Geelong solo concert of Chinese guitariste extraordinaire, Xuefei Yang, this week.
Oh boy what a treat it was. Myself and a lucky group of around 80 or so music and guitar fans cosied into the sumptuous surrounds of Sacred Heart College’s Chapel to witness Xuefei just completely own one of the most seriously impressive, big, fat, chunky solo programmes I’ve had the pleasure to see or hear. She clearly demonstrated that she’s equally at home on the smaller, more informal salon-type stage as she is on the large concert hall stage.
Fei kicked off the proceedings with her own arrangements of five of the six movements from Isaac Albeniz’s Espana: Seis Hojas de Album suite (the Prelude, Tango, Malaguena, Capricho Catalan and Zortico). This selection, featured on her Rodrigo album, was a simply delightful start to the evening. Fei played the pieces with the requisite Spanish-inflected sentiment, yet balanced that with a delightfully delicate touch and elegant poise reminiscent of a classical ballet dancer. I particularly enjoyed the subtle Tango and the Zortico. Beautiful.
The Albeniz was followed by three Schubert songs (arranged by Merz) – Lob der Thranen, Aufenhalt and Standchen. As Fei announced, she’s a big Schubert fan and this was apparent from her playing. The lyrical, sentimentality of these songs was treated in the most graceful and delicate manner by Fei – elegant, simple, sensitive. And quite possibly some of the most pianissimo pianissimos I’ve ever witnessed! A super light, relaxed and delicate right hand. I want a pianissimo touch like that!
The first half of the evening was rounded out by a phenomenal (I’m going to run out of superlatives here!) interpretation of J.S. Bach’s Chaconne. The arrangement, again, was Fei’s own – a masterwork of masterworks, played by a master of the instrument. This Chaconne was simply fantastic (there was even a moment where I thought a rather excitable audience member was going to start applauding about a quarter of a way into the epic piece!) – a demonstration of dexterity, left hand shenanigans and right hand wizardry. Oh yes, and let’s not forget a beautiful sound too.
The second half of the programme featured a Chinese piece arranged by Fei, transcribed from the pipa or Chinese lute. This was followed by Song from a Bird by John Williams from his album of the same name. A fitting place to play such a piece, as he was inspired by the song of an Australian bird in writing this piece.
The next three pieces I’m not quite sure what to say about them to be honest. Words don’t really do them justice….. We were treated to Rodrigo’s Invocacion y danza. Wow. Wow. Wow. This was off the chain (to coin an Australian phrase). A pure demonstration of virtuosity in guitar playing and musicality. Head over to YouTube for a taste of what I mean.
Fei then presented us with her arrangement of Manuel de Falla’s Spanish Dance No. 1. This was of particular interest given that it’s normally played by two instruments, guitar and something else (another guitar or piano). Fei decided apparently that she wanted to be able to play this tune without a duet partner, so took it upon herself to arrange it for solo guitar. What?! A glutton for punshiment surely in undertaking such an exercise (she admitted it was a pretty hard thing to do), but was well worth the effort. A fantastic arrangement, delivered as if it was intended to sit at home on the one instrument. It takes a fair bit of talent to be able to do that!
The end of the main programme featured Leo Brouwer’s Sonata para Guitarre Sola. Definitely not saving the easiest pieces till last! Brilliant. A spell-binding performance again delivered with Fei’s trademark poise and grace. To round out the evening Fei left us with a cheeky little transcription of Plum Blossoms In The Snow (arranged by Gerald Garcia) from her latest recording, Sojourn. A delicious little “dessert” to finish the evening.
An absolutely wonderful evening of classical guitar performance. And all played from memory, to boot! Just phenomenal. As I said to the audience on the night (I was honoured with presenting Xuefei a gift from the Classical Guitar Society of Victoria), you would seriously be hard pressed to find a greater guitar talent in the world right now. We all hope she comes back to Australia and Melbourne again very soon.