Samson François ∙ Volume 2

8.99 €

Samson François was one of France's most provocative and enigmatic pianists. His recitals brought out the sense of dynamism and spontaneity in his playing and François seemed more or less engaged dependent on form. This CD is from a surviving live recorded recital in Ettlingen, Germany on 03 May 1960. Here he played with subtle imagination and vital expression, loaded of intense poetry, aristocratic elegance and inspired musicianship. The Prokofiev Seventh Sonata is played with rage and fierceness.


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SAMSON FRANÇOIS plays Prokofiev, Chopin, Debussy & Mendelssohn
The legendary piano recital in Ettlingen, Germany on 03 May 1960

1-3. Prokofiev: Piano Sonata No. 7 in B-flat Major, Op. 83 [17:21]
I. Allegro inquieto [08:14]
II. Andante caloroso [06:00]
III. Precipitato [03:05]

4-7. Chopin: Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 35 [17:53]
I. Grave. Doppio movimento [05:02]
II. Scherzo [05:06]
III. Marche funèbre: Lento [06:42]
IV. Finale. Presto. Sotto voce e legato [01:01]

8-11. Debussy: Suite bergamasque, L. 75 [16:02]
I. Prélude [04:04]
II. Menuet [04:07]
III. Clair de lune [04:01]
IV. Passepied [03:49]

12. Mendelssohn: Song without Words in B minor, Op. 67, No. 5 [02:11]
13. Mendelssohn: Song without Words in A Major, Op. 62, No. 6 [01:54]
14. Chopin: Nocturne No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 55 [04:58]

Recorded ∙ 03 May 1960 ∙ Ettlingen ∙ Schloß Asamsaal ∙ Süddeutscher Rundfunk ∙ Live Recording

15. Debussy: Prélude No. 10 ‘La cathédrale engloutie’, Livre I, L. 117/1 [06:06]
16. Debussy: Prélude No. 11 ‘La danse de Puck’, Livre I, L. 117/11 [02:38]
17. Debussy: Prélude No. 12 ‘Feux d’artifice’ Livre II, L. 123/12 [04:09]

Recorded ∙ 03 April 1962 ∙ Paris ∙ Studio RTF ∙ Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française ∙ Radio Studio Recording

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Samson Francois, the eminent disciple of Alfred Cortot, always got around the extensive repertoire of concert and concentrated all his imaginative playing, idiosyncratic rapture and sublime expressiveness in the romantic genre.

Samson François was born in Frankfurt am Main, Germany on May 18, 1924 where his father worked at the French consulate. His mother, Rose, named him Samson, for strength, and Pascal, for spirit. François discovered the piano early – at the age of two – and his first studies were in Italy, with Mascagni, who encouraged him to give his first concert at the age of 6, in which he played a Mozart concerto under Mascagni. Probably it was fairly terrifying experience but, he said, “I cannot remember much what it was like.” After that, however, “I never doubted that I would be a concert pianist.” Moving from country to country with his itinerant family, he studied in Belgrade with Cyril Licar, obtaining a first prize in performance. Licar also introduced him to the works of Béla Bartók. Having studied in the Conservatoire in Nice from 1932 to 1935, where he again won first prize, François came to the attention of Alfred Cortot, who encouraged him to move to Paris and study with Yvonne Lefébure at the l’École Normale de Musique, the school Cortot co-founded with Auguste Mangeot. He also studied piano with Alfred Cortot (who reportedly found him almost impossible to teach), and harmony with Nadia Boulanger. In 1938, he moved to the Paris Conservatoire to study with Marguerite Long. In 1940 he won premier prix at this Conservatoire. In 1943, be reaching the age of 20, Samson François won the Long-Thibaud Competition and thereafter embarked on a career, one of international scale once World War II had ended. Even during the war, Jacques Thibaud brought François to the attention of Walter Legge, the English recording producer turned wartime concert organiser; François was soon flown to England for an extended tour of factories and camps. From 1945 he toured regularly in Europe. When he arrived on American shores in 1947, he was dubbed “the whirlwind pianist”. Musical America pointed out “not since the advent of Horowitz on our bedazzled shores has any young pianist brought us such an exciting brand of virtuosity as François. The young fellow is undersized, pinched and thin, bespeaking his years of hunger and hardship. He wears his hair long, like a Paderewski or a Liszt, and his friends declare that he refuses to have his locks cut because, as one named Samson, he fears he might suffer a loss of strength. His strength and flourish and speed, his flying hands and high tossed mane brought gasps from the spectators. A true artistry, a true yearning for music are not easily crushed by oppression.” The young fellow is undersized, pinched and thin, bespeaking his years of hunger and hardship. He wears his hair long, like a Paderewski or a Liszt, and his friends declare that he refuses to have his locks cut because, as one named Samson, he fears he might suffer a loss of strength. His strength and flourish and speed, his flying hands and high tossed mane brought gasps from the spectators. A true artistry, a true yearning for music are not easily crushed by oppression.”

His first appearances in New York was in Prokofiev’s 5th Piano Concerto under the baton of Leonard Bernstein and the New York City Symphony. In a brief interview in 1947, François enthused over the attentiveness of his audience in the United Stated, and said “that he had been amazed to discover the extent of the development here, both in the United States and in Canada. He also said that while the war had put a temporary stop to musical progress in Europe, it was now forging ahead with leaps and bounds.” He subsequently played all over the globe, including Communist China in 1964. As a composer, his piano concerto was first performed at the Aix-en-Provence festival in 1951 and has since been released for recording. He was also author of a book, “Twelve Secrets of Pianistic Craftsmannship.” Although in performance an exponent of classics, romantics and contemporaries, he was in private a jazz fan, with one of the finest jazz collections in Europe. This interest was said to have been reflected in his concerto. Apart, from his musical talent Francois also was an accomplished linguist. He spoke English, Italian, German, Serbian and French. “Even I was speaking Arabian once,” he said once, “but I have forgotten it.” His success with languages he attributed to his father who “made me speak one language one week, another the next.” He did not learn English until he came to North America during 1947. He took no lessons but “learned it by reading’ the advertisements in the United States.” “It’s nothing to speak English.” he said. “It is to understand that is hard. Sometimes after a concert I cannot remember a word.” North America he liked “very well” but “it is too bad when you travel for concerts. I don’t see the country just stations.”

After an absence of more than ten years, his return in 1959 to New York was hailed as “one of the best piano performances given in this City for years.” After performing with Bernstein at Carnegie Hall, François arranged an after-curtain jam session with Bernstein, Errol Garner and Dmitri Shostakovich. Concentrating on the Romantic piano literature, and especially the French repertoire, he was acclaimed for his performances of Franz Liszt, Robert Schumann, and Chopin, as well as Gabriel Fauré, Debussy, and Ravel. His Prokofiev, too, was impressive. French critics and audiences were especially receptive to his virtuosic approach. His extravagant lifestyle, good looks, and passionate but highly disciplined playing, gave him a cult status as a pianist. Though, his passion for night life and his reckless behaviour (characterised by lavish drinking and drug use) resulted in a heart attack on the concert platform in 1968. His early death followed only two years later. François’ early death on October 22, 1970 denied the world a chance to hear how the pianist might have developed had he lived longer. He was a pianist of exceptional persuasiveness in live performance, but only intermittently as arresting in the recording studio. François was married to Josette Bhavsar – her father was a Hindu diamond-cutter from Bombay who spent much time in Deauville, France and London. After war, she met François whom she married in 1955. “I attend most of my husband’s concerts but I also attend many other piano concerts.” said Mrs François once. This way she was able to retain her “sense of values” and judged her husband’s artistry objectively- rather than with her heart. Their Idol was Vladimir Horowitz, she said, adding her husband seldom went to concerts. They were also admirers of Emil Gilels; and Wilhelm Kempff. She devoted herself from the onset to supporting his career. After their divorce in the sixties, she was responsible for the press service of the ensembles of the ORTF until the disappearance of that service in 1974. After the death of François (1970), she created the foundation that bears his name in order to support young talents and to further their early careers. She passed away on February 28, 2011. Their only child Maximilien, born in 1955 died in October 2013.

François was one of France’s most provocative and enigmatic pianists. His recordings for EMI’s French affiliate, La Voix de son Maitre, were made at a time when French engineers were more interested in clean, accurately reproduced sound than such vague matters as atmosphere, and François often made a point of avoiding pianistic color for its own sake. They pointed out that on tape it was possible to record and re-record until a performer was note-perfect and so produce performances that could not be duplicated live. It was also claimed that these readings created unreal expectations and audiences would be turned off when they realized that performers who sounded exciting in the living room turned out to be duds in the concert hall.

Notes by Michael Waiblinger, © 2014

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Article number: MC 1027
UPC barcode: 791154054031
Recording dates: 1960-1962
Release date: March 2015
Total timing: 73:16

Producer and Audio Restoration: Lynn Ludwig
Booklet Notes: Michael Waiblinger
Design: Alessia Issara
Photographs: Maximilien François Collection
With special thanks to the late Maximilien François
From the Original Masters ∙ © 2015 Meloclassic