There may be some justification for positing string instruments as a kind of sonic silk road or link between Europe and Asia. At the very least, the music of Spain may be said to be an ideal showcase for the classical guitar, in no small part due to the heritage of Al-Andalus. Appropriately, the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra's mid-December 2021 concerts featuring Xuefei Yang were titled Sketches of Spain. (Her own most recent CD recording with Decca is entitled Sketches of China.)
The concert featured classics in this distinctive Spanish genre such as De Falla's The Three Cornered Hat, Debussy's Images: Iberia and Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez, attesting to impressionist and modernist returns to this bountiful fount. These were brilliantly executed by Yang who paradoxically adopts a more John Williams-esque cupped thumb position that produces mellow sounds as opposed to the high arch hand approach of Andres Segovia. Her rendition of the much beloved Romance Anonimo demonstrates how well she bends the melodic lines with waltzy helping notes without being overly demonstrative.
Xuefei Yang would soon appear again with the Hong Kong Philaharmonic as part of the traditional and appropriately populist New Year's Celebration held on 29 and 30 December 2021.
Vibrant and commanding maestro Yu Long traveled down from Beijing, where he holds the top position in China's three most prominent orchestras, to lead the performance.
As his own recent recording work has brought together Mahler with Chinese composers, it is appropriate that this concert continued this work of forging affinities. And it was again string instruments that secured pride of place in the sonic bridge between East and West.
In addition to Xuefei, this performance featured Yiwen Lu on the traditional Chinese erhu. A global ambassador for this instrument, sometimes known as the spiked/southern fiddle or the Chinese violin, her performance of Wang Danhong's My Motherland fused anthemic swells paired with the harp with virtuosic rapid fire fingering.
The next piece rearranged to highlight the erhu was Tambourin Chinois by Austrian Jewish violin virtuoso Fritz Kreisler, reflecting modernist fantasy of chinoiserie inspired by a visit to the Chinese Theater in San Francisco. More dissonant with jazz influences, Kreisler's piece reveals how much of the American western sound is really informed by Chinese influences - what one could term 'lo mein western' - and even points to some primeval resonances between the Native American and the Chinese.
Xuefei Yang's performance continued the Spanish themes of her previous concert, where Fu Renchang's Fantasy on a Lovely Rose suggested a honey romanticism as a portal to Chinese melodies. Finally, Xufei concluded her appearances with the Hong Kong Philaharmonic via a performance of contemporary English guitar composer John Brunning, whose work she has long championed. His work seems most attuned to her style at its most comfortable and personal, the pastoral, the elegaic and the lyrical.
Copyright © 7 January 2022
Adam J Sacks,
Hong Kong, China