in tune
Arizona Classic Guitar Society

CD Reviews

by Raul Jose

New Transcriptions For Guitar

Philip Hii

Bach on the classical guitar! Segovia set the precedent with his transcription of the Chaconne. I was attracted to John Williams' renditions, then impressed by Benjamin Verdery, captivated by Frank Bungarten and Stefano Grondona, and absolutely shocked by Hubert Kappel. And now, here is Philip Hii, and I am pleasantly surprised, mesmerized, and awestruck.

Philip Hii is a native of Malaysia who started guitar instruction at age 10, and became self-taught shortly after and won a national guitar competition. He later studied Law in New Zealand but switched to guitar and won the New Zealand National Cup. After graduating, he briefly lived in England, Germany, and Malaysia before moving to the United States. He now heads the guitar programs at Texas A & M University and Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas.

In this incredible CD, Mr. Hii premieres five of his transcriptions of significant Bach works. The interesting linear notes by the artist provides some insight into his efforts to arrive at legitimate transcriptions which could be presented a tempo.

First impressions are important. In the first work, Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue (BMV 903), Hii plays the chromatic scales with incredible speed, precision, and clarity that it not only knocked my socks off, it knocked Santa's stockings all the way to the North Pole. The voicings in the fugue are also brought out so masterfully and distinctly.

I would have been quite satisfied with the first work alone, but more premiere treats followed - Nun Komm der Heiden Heiland (BMV659) and Violin Sonata in E minor (BMV1023). As characteristic of all the interpretations, the music is presented without musical sacrifices or compromises - just simply beautiful baroque music by a guitar master of the highest order.

The popular Prelude, Fugue and Allegro (BMV 998) is presented at a brisker pace. Mr. Hii does not plod or dwell on any single idea. One has to think deeply and quickly and is rewarded constantly throughout the performance.

The final pieces are the two other premieres: Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ (BMV639) and Toccata and Fugue (BMV565). Yes, THE Toccata and Fugue! The phantom of the opera would have done a double take and removed his mask! I was tempted to hold my hands in front and count the fingers, but opted instead to listen very closely and be both entertained and educated by this amazing guitarist.

As I said initially, I was pleasantly surprised, mesmerized, and awestruck - breathless, too.

© In Tune, Arizona Classic Guitar Society