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Samson François (piano)
The Salle Pleyel Recital in 1965
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Études Symphoniques, Op 13 [18:41]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1809-1847)
Mazurka in D-flat Major, Op 33, No 3 [3:01]
Mazurka in F Minor, Op 63, No 2 [1:41]
Ballade No. 3 in A-flat Major, Op 47 [7:07]
Étude No. 9 in G-flat Major, Op 25 [1:06]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Piano Sonata in B Minor, HS 178 [31:28]
Réminiscences de Don Juan, HS 418 [16:01]
rec. 19 January 1965, Paris Salle Pleyel, ORTF live recording
MELOCLASSIC MC1045 [79:18]

Samson François (1924-1970) exuded an air of almost provocative bravura or perhaps it’s truer to note that his life was lived on an extravagant scale. His heart attack in 1968 followed by early death in 1970 reflected a lifestyle that willingly embraced alcohol and drugs, and Michael Waiblinger’s notes also relate an ‘after-curtain jam session’ in New York where François was joined by Leonard Bernstein, Erroll Garner and Dmitri Shostakovich – which, if so, must have been something to see.

I’ve always found his Chopin inconsistent and wondered why, as it’s much admired, certainly in his native France. Maybe a clue emerges when one reflects on the fact that French EMI seems to have valued accuracy over the vagaries of spontaneity. Maybe that strange lassitude that occasionally descends on elements of his Chopin cycle is a result of an alien sense of self-control. Whatever the truth of that, or otherwise, he’s certainly heard at his most free and communicative in live recital, a common experience, of course, among instrumentalists, but crucially so with François.

His Salle Pleyel recital in January 1965 is a case in point. He opens with Schumann’s Études Symphoniques which is sharply characterised and full of vitality; sometimes a rubato will catch one out but it’s all put to the service of the music and not to service of the executant. The Chopin pieces are more committed than the studio examples with two well-chosen Mazurkas and the Third Ballade, which is notably more playful and incisive than the studio inscription made over a decade earlier. His encore is the G flat Etude (Op.25 No.9), a deftly charming way to end the recital.

Before that however is the small matter of Liszt, of whose music he was acknowledged to be a superb practitioner. The Sonata is neither as kinetically fast as Horowitz nor as expansive as the work has often subsequently become. Yet he generates a torrid, powerful and intense response, where bravura and refinement co-exist and where voluptuous extroversion meets refined legato. All this is securely contained structurally, and he proves a telling, extrovert but sensitive advocate for the work. He follows the sonata with, Réminiscences de Don Juan, the opening paragraphs of which he plays with poker-faced intensity. His brand of buoyant caprice and bravura soon asserts itself, however, in a forcefully brilliant reading.

The sound quality and restoration alike are excellent in a valuable reclamation from the vaults.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Stephen Greenbank



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