BACH: Concerto in d, BWV 1052; Prelude, BWV 846; Concerto in E, BWV 1042; Sonata in g, BWV  1001; Concerto in a, BWV 1041; Air on the G String – Xuefei Yang, guitar/ Elias String Quartet – EMI 50999 6 79018 2 1, 77:24 *****:
I’ve not heard from Xuefei Yang—or “Fei” as her fans and friends know her—since her album 40 Degrees North which I reviewed in 2008, though she has released an Albeniz and Rodrigo album since then that Gary Lemco lauded.
In my review back then, I opined that “We will have to wait and see what Yang can do when she gets to the real heavies in the repertory—Bach and the others.” She must have read my mind, because here we have Bach—really, really good Bach—in spades. In fact, Yang herself arranged the three concertos on this disc after painstaking study of previous arrangements, including Bach’s own.
The D-minor concerto, known far and wide as the popular Keyboard Concerto No. 1, was originally for violin (so it is thought) and then arranged for organ and used in two of the cantatas. The E-major and A-minor concertos are of course the two well-known pieces for violin and orchestra, while the G-minor Sonata is the first in the set of the Six Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin. These are the meat of this disc, and Yang has done a fine job in transcribing them. Knowing that Bach was always concerned about the amplitude and sonority of any instrument he wrote for, she takes this into consideration also in her decision to use only a string quartet as accompaniment instead of a larger orchestra, the idea being that the guitar will sound better and with fuller clarity with the small ensemble. I am not sure I agree with this; too often concern for projection of the solo instrument overrides the need for full bodied orchestral sound as well, though the one-on-a-part argument continues. Regardless of the decision, the Elias Quartet plays with commitment and exactitude, and Yang’s solo work is first rate, her sharpness and exceptionally robust tone pulling all the juice out of these wonderful works.
Fei has more than met my expectations, and guitar lovers, to say nothing of Bach fans, will want this.
—Steven Ritter