Chamber music and recital

Bostridge/Yang: Recital

Date: October 25, 2015
Location: City Hall Concert Hall, Hong Kong.

Dowland – In Darkness Let Me Dwell
Britten (arr. Julian Bream) – Second Lute Song of the Earl of Essex (from Gloriana)
Argento – Chopin to a Friend, Schubert to a Friend (from Letters from Composers)
Schubert – Die Mainacht, D. 194
Der König in Thule, D. 367
An die Musik, D. 547
Ständchen, No.4 (from Lieder aus Schwanengesang, D. 957)
Britten – Songs from the Chinese


Chinese Traditional Song (arr. Xuefei Yang) – Fisherman’s Song at Eventide (Guitar solo)
Debussy (arr. Julian Bream) – La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin (Guitar solo)
Falla – Homenaje, le Tombeau de Claude Debussy (Guitar solo)
Falla (arr. Xuefei Yang) – Spanish Dance No.1 (from La Vida Breve) (Guitar solo)
Goss – Book of Songs
Dowland – Come Again, Sweet Love Doth Now
White as Lilies was Her Face
My Thoughts are Winged with Hopes
Flow My Tears
In Darkness Let Me Dwell

Ian Bostridge, tenor
Xuefei Yang, guitar

It is rather unbelievable that Ian Bostridge, an acclaimed and prolific tenor who has traveled all around the world giving recitals and concerts, has never, until this evening, set foot on a public concert stage in Hong Kong. Contrast that with guitarist Xuefei Yang, his partner in tonight’s program who, as a teenager, made her Hong Kong debut some two decades ago. This voice/guitar combo has been touring around the world by dusting off and parading late-Renaissance/early-Baroque gems for voice and early-music string instruments. From works by John Dowland (1563-1626) to those by Stephen Goss (b. 1964), the pair offers materials spanning some four centuries. These materials do not align with an obvious curation, but one theme lingers: the intensity of the human spirit.

In the form of songs, these materials require a capable interpreter who can let emotions flow. Ian Bostridge is certainly one. Well known to be a cerebral performer with a professorial demeanor who meticulously researches the meaning of lyrics before revealing them with a timbre’s heightened scrutiny, Bostridge is never one who skims on lyrics’ emotive power. He is always serious and intense – so intense, that watching his muscles cringe as his voice intensifies sometimes makes the viewer cringe the same. This evening, the intensity of his delivery was more restrained than usual, while his trademarked crisp diction got slightly muffled as it traveled through the evening’s relatively high humidity. But his words still carried lots of weight and meaning: when he sang “Hast du mein Herz zu warmer Lieb entzunden” in Schubert’s An die Musik, one could glean from the generosity of his eye contact, his body’s slightly forwarding posture and an anchored, determined timbre that he meant what he sang or, at the very least, he was pleading to the audience to delve deeper into the subject matter.

Xuefei Yang played with the touch of a gentle feline paw, but could jump in with a powerful chord or two with the leaping ferocity of a tiger’s rage. Like all young musicians, she would make mistakes; but unlike them, she did not dwell upon a few wrong notes. As an artist, Yang painted with poetic persuasiveness: in Fisherman’s Song at Eventide, she rendered an image of a lethargic evening filled with gentle choruses and dimming dusk light. Or, in the tense sections of Plucking the Rushes, in Goss’ Book of Songs, Yang’s fiery fingering brought forth heated drama between the voice and the instrument, with Yang all the while synchronizing the ebb and flow by making frequent side glances at Bostridge. Compared with other talented Asian musicians, the Beijing-born Yang genuinely seemed to enjoy the process of music making, indicated in part by her friendly demeanor as she talked about the various solos after the intermission. Nevertheless, she remained trapped in one aspect that befell most promising Asian musicians: the non-sense that technically difficult pieces would surely please the crowd. In Falla’s Spanish Dance No.1, a piece rearranged by Yang for two hands when it was meant for four, Yang spent all her attention to the finger-breaking fretboard action, and ended up sounding dragged, exhausted and spiritless. The devil of a job neither pleased nor awed. The inviting expressiveness, so eloquently displayed in Fisherman’s Song at Eventide just a few minutes before, remained unsatisfactorily absent here.

Ian Bostridge and Xuefei Yang

Ian Bostridge and Xuefei Yang

Chamber music and recital

Magdalena Kožená: Recital

Date: November 10, 2013
Location: Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Hong Kong.

Magdalena Kožená’s recital last night at the Cultural Centre was essentially a concert version of her hit album, Lettere Amorose, a collection of Italian love songs from the 17th century. These songs came from a time when classical music was the pop music of its day, where the songs were performed and hummed at street corners and at dinner tables. In collaboration with Private Musicke, Kožená found an ensemble of musicians immensely and precisely skilled at reproducing the kind of plucked and percussive sounds found at those street corners and dinner tables in 17th century Italy. The ensemble consisted of Pierre Pitzl and Hugh James Sandilands on the guitar, Jesús Fernández Baena on the teorba, Daniel Pilz on the colascione, Richard Lee Myron on violone/bass, Francisco José Montero Martinez on the lirone, and Marc Clos on percussion. Some of Clos’ percussive instruments looked like they were borrowed from the modern LP set than authentically periodic. But the sound that Clos was able to produce from his instruments blended quite well with the other strings, gave just enough percussive zest, but never drew attention to itself. Clos had prized ears and visual vigilance for maintaining dynamic balance and rhythmic integrity of the ensemble. Pitzl made some extremely convoluted playing on the fingerboard look devilishly easy, and his fluidic, no non-sense mannerism was quite centrally effective in bringing about the ensemble’s late Renaissance sensibilities. Kožená’s voice, marked with minimal vibrato and very little mannerism, effervesced with a refreshing air of ethereal beauty. Kožená did not possess the largest or plumpest of voices, but what she produced carried poetic quality: in the last line in Cruda Amarilli, “I’mi morrò tacendo / in silence I shall die”, Kožená elicited hapless desperation by cringing and slightly lightening her timbre. As she sang about love in the line “da temprar de l’amato mio bene e de l’arso mio cor l’occulto foco / to soothe the hidden fire of my beloved and my scorched heart” and she closed her eyes and lightly cupped her breasts, some audience members, sensing the grief, were heard gasping in sorrow. Kožená’s Hong Kong debut was not sold out, but based on the rabid reception at the end, it would be safe to predict that the audience in Hong Kong would not have to wait as long for her return as they did for her debut.

Magdalena Kožená in Hong Kong.

Magdalena Kožená in Hong Kong.