Episode 99. Yi-Kwei Sze


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Episode 99. Yi-Kwei Sze (斯義桂)

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The Chinese-American bass Yi-Kwei Sze (1915-1994) was the first Chinese singer to achieve worldwide prominence in the world of Western classical music. From his first studies with Vladimir Shushlin at the Shanghai Conservatory, Sze’s sound and artistic soul carried on the great tradition of the Russian basses, including that of Alexander Kipnis, with whom he studied after emigrating to the United States in 1947. This episode captures Sze’s legacy in both his live and (comparatively rare) studio recordings, including operatic arias by Verdi, Mozart and Handel, and songs by Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Mussorgsky, and Rachmaninov. Alongside my tribute to this great artist, I also consider the plight of the Asian musician as eloquently set forth in a riveting article published in The New York Times. Over the course of the past nearly two years since I have been producing the podcast, I consider Yi-Kwei Sze to be one of the greatest artistic discoveries on my own path. A note for my Patreon supporters: a second Yi-Kwei Sze episode is being published today that further explores his recorded legacy.

RECORDINGS HEARD IN THIS EPISODE

Yi-Kwei and Nancy Lee Sze

Zhu Qing, Zhiyi Li: Separated by the Yangtze River. Yi-Kwei Sze, Nancy Lee Sze [live Taipei August 1957]

The record cover of the live concert from Taipei.
Vladimir Shushlin (1896-1978)

Serge Rachmaninov, Konstantin Balmont (after Percy Bysshe Shelley): Островок [The Little Island], Op. 14/2. Vladimir Shushlin, unknown pianist [unknown recording date]

Nearly 30 years later, the cover of Sze’s 1968 recording of the same song.

Traditional Russian, collected Mily Balakirev: Эй, ухнем! [Song of the Volga Boatmen]. Yi-Kwei-Sze [1939 studio recording]

Alexander Kipnis (1891-1978)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: O Isis und Osiris (Die Zauberflöte). Alexander Kipnis, Clemens Schmalstich, Orchester und Chor der Staatsoper Berlin [1930 studio recording]

As the King in Aida, his debut role with the San Francisco Opera, 1950

Giuseppe Verdi: Dormirò sol (Don Carlo). Yi-Kwei Sze, Gaetano Merola, San Francisco Opera Orchestra [live, San Francisco 1950]

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: In diesen heil’gen Hallen (The Magic Flute) [sung in English]. Yi-Kwei Sze, Peter Herman Adler, Symphony of the Air [NBC Opera, first broadcast live15 January 1956]

George Frideric Handel: Sì, tra i ceppi (Berenice). Yi-Kwei Sze, George van Renesse [live, Den Haag 23 October 1961]

With JFK after a performance at the White House

Franz Schubert, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: An Schwager Kronos, D. 369. Yi-Kwei Sze, George van Renesse [live, Den Haag 23 October 1961]

George van Renesse (1909-1994)

Francis Poulenc: La belle jeunesse (Chansons gaillardes, FP 42/7). Yi-Kwei Sze, George van Renesse [live, Den Haag 23 October 1961]

Hugo Wolf, Joseph von Eichendorff: Der Musikant. Yi-Kwei Sze, George van Renesse [live, Den Haag 23 October 1961]

Brooks Smith and Yi-Kwei Sze

Robert Schumann, Heinrich Heine: Ich grolle nicht (Dichterliebe, Op. 48/7). Yi-Kwei Sze, Brooks Smith [1965 studio recording]

Johannes Brahms: O Tod, wie bitter bist du (Vier ernste Gesänge, Op. 121/3). Yi-Kwei Sze, Brooks Smith [1965 studio recording]

Yi-Kwei Sze and Alexander Tcherepnin (1899-1979)

Alexander Tcherepnin: Buffalo Boy (Chinese Songs, Op. 95/4). Yi-Kwei Sze, Brooks Smith [1965 studio recording]

Brooks Smith (1912-2000)

Modest Mussorgsky, Arseny Golenishchev-Kutuzov: Окончен праздный шумный день [The idle festival day is ended] (Без солнца [Sunless], No. 5). Yi-Kwei Sze, Brooks Smith [1965 studio recording]

Modest Mussorgsky, Arseny Golenishchev-Kutuzov: Колыбельная [Lullaby] (Песни и пляски смерти [Songs and Dances of Death]). Yi-Kwei Sze, Brooks Smith [1965 studio recording]

Victor Babin (1908-1972)

Serge Rachmaninov, Leo Tolstoy: Уж ты, нива моя [The Harvest of Sorrow], Op. 4/5. Yi-Kwei Sze, Victor Babin [live Cleveland 1971]

Posing with his portrait at the Eastman School of Music,

Serge Rachmaninov, Mikolai Maksimovich Vilenkin: В моей душе [Love’s Flame], Op. 14/10. Yi-Kwei Sze, Robert Freeman [live Rochester 31 October 1978]

Hugo Wolf, Eduard Mörike: Fußreise. Yi-Kwei Sze, Robert Freeman [live Rochester 31 October 1978]

Hugo Wolf, Paul Heyse after Italian folk poetry: Geselle, woll’n wir uns in Hutten küllen (Italienisches Liederbuch, Book I, No. 14). Yi-Kwei Sze, Robert Freeman [live Rochester 31 October 1978]

Yi-Kwei and Nancy Lee Sze at the 1966 Edison Awards banquet

Yuanren Zhao, Bannong Liu: How can I not think of her? Yi-Kwei Sze, Nancy Lee Sze [1950 studio recording]

Teaching a Master Class at the Shanghai Conservatory, 1979

Franz Schubert, Franz von Schober: An die Musik, D. 547. Yi-Kwei Sze, Robert Freeman [live Rochester 31 October 1978]

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