P1110. SAMSON FRANÇOIS: Chopin & Liszt - Live Performance, 1954, RTF; Debussy & Ravel, recorded 5 Oct., 1953, RTF. (Germany) Meloclassic 1017. Final sealed copy! - 791154050170
“Samson François’ 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. 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 which 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. In 1943, at 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’.
His first appearance 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 States, 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.
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 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, but 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 22 October, 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 Indian. She grew up in an environment permeated by the piano that both her mother and sister played. Ricardo Viñes or Yves Nat often visited the family. After the war she met François whom she married in 1955. She devoted herself from the onset to supporting his career. After the death of François, she created the foundation that bears his name in order to support young talents and to further their early careers. She passed away on 28 February, 2011. Their only child Maximilien, born in 1955, died recently in October 2013.
- Michael Waiblinger
“Meloclassic was founded in by Lynn Ludwig in Germany in December 2013, the label dedicated to releasing previously unissued historical recordings of live radio performances and broadcasts. Whenever possible, the discs include original radio announcements and applause. The recordings are meant to serve as historical documents. The sound quality tends to remain extraordinarily quiet, with no trace of tape or wire hiss."
—Gary Lemco, Audiophile Audition, 20 July, 2014
"According to its website, Meloclassic is a ‘non-profit organisation dedicated to releasing previously unissued historical recordings of live radio performances and broadcasts’. The first thing to say is that the material, or most of it, is of exceptional artistic interest, and the sound (which is for the most part extremely clean) is thankfully free of excessive filtering….I look forward to hearing further releases in the not-too-distant future.”
- Rob Cowan, GRAMOPHONE, April, 2014
"Presentation is in a digipack with notes ‘tipped’ in – with excellent photographs, by the way, and helpful text, in English in the case of my copy. Surveying the available discs and seeing details of some of those to come - many violinists, chamber ensembles and pianists – I have no hesitation in saying that this is potentially the most exciting tranche of broadcast material to be made available in many years."
- Jonathan Woolf, MusicWebInternational, 14 June, 2014