The EMI box of Samson Francois playing Chopin has been a mainstay in my listening since it was gifted to me by a former CMG member some years back, and I have been eager to hear more of his playing. The release pictured above will be available here in the USA as of October 30 for a true bargain price, as it includes all of his EMI recordings in their original jackets (55 in all) for $119. An extremely gifted pianist who sadly died at only 46 years of age, Francois became a celebrity in Europe and Japan during his all too brief lifetime, but was known only to connoisseurs here in America.
Here is the text from the Presto website accompanying this welcome release:
Samson François was a true poet of the piano. A brilliant, inspired pianist especially identified with the music of Chopin, Debussy and Ravel, he played with both the proverbial clarity of the French school and a visceral immediacy and spontaneity. Charismatic, sometimes provocative, and numbering jazz among his passions, he achieved celebrity status – notably in France and Japan. The works of Chopin are prominent in this collection – melodic contours were always a priority for François – but the complete list of composers is richly diverse. Three major new bonuses are the long-awaited world premiere release of François’ penultimate live recital, recorded at the Nohant Festival in France in June 1970, just four months before his death at the age of 46; a recital recorded in Tokyo in 1969, and a DVD documentary, written by his son, Maximilien François. This new edition places all recordings in the context of their original couplings and the CD wallets carry the original artwork.This 55-disc box set marks 50 years since the death, on 22 October 1970 at the age of just 46, of the French pianist (and composer) Samson François. The box is an expanded version of a collection first released 10 years ago. This new edition places all recordings in the context of their original couplings and the CD wallet designs feature the original artwork.Samson François was a brilliant, inspired pianist, particularly identified with the music of Chopin, Debussy and Ravel. His playing combines the proverbial clarity of the French school with a visceral immediacy and spontaneity. François himself said that a pianist “should never sound under any obligation to play the next note,” or feel constrained by barlines. Gramophone magazine has noted the “strange and alluring genius” of his playing, describing it as “alive with personal magic” and sharing “every imaginative possibility”.Samson François’ life was colourful, even dramatic. He was born in Frankfurt in 1924 to a French family that moved from country to country, and he often took a creative approach to his own biography. A charismatic, sometimes provocative figure, he achieved celebrity status, notably in France and Japan, and was renowned for his charm and eloquence. His lifestyle was idiosyncratic and undisciplined. A heavy smoker and drinker, he liked to stay up all night, often in jazz clubs. In 1968 he suffered a heart attack on stage, dying two years later.François’ credentials as a French pianist were impeccable. After initial studies in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, he became a student in Nice and subsequently in Paris, where, on the recommendation of Alfred Cortot, his teachers were Yvonne Lefébure (at the École Normale de Musique, co-founded by Cortot in 1919) and Marguerite Long (at the Paris Conservatoire). He also studied harmony with the great composition teacher Nadia Boulanger. He first performed a concerto in Paris (Liszt’s Piano Concerto No 1) in 1941, at the age of just 17, but his career was well and truly launched by his victory in the inaugural Long-Thibaud Competition in 1943. Beyond France, he appeared around Europe, the USA, the Middle East and Japan, and broke ground with his performances in the Soviet Union and China.Samson François: The Complete Recordings: The works of Chopin are especially prominent in the collection – the melodic contours of any music were the determining factor for François – but the complete list of composers is richly diverse: Bach, Bartók, Beethoven, Debussy, Fauré, Franck, Hindemith, Liszt, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Prokofiev, Ravel (including the famous recording of the two piano concertos, conducted by André Cluytens), Saint-Saëns, Schumann and Scriabin. There is also music by François himself, including a film soundtrack.During his life, François achieved star status in France and Japan. However, the limited currency of his recordings in some other markets meant that his genius was not fully recognised everywhere. Be that as it may, there can be no doubt that he was one of the leading French pianists of his time – and probably the greatest of them.For this 2020 release, three major additions have been made to the contents of the 2010 collection:• The long-awaited world premiere release of a recording of François’ penultimate live recital, which took place in June 1970 – just four months before his death – at the Nohant Festival in central France. He performs music by Schumann and Ravel, but the venue has a special association with his beloved Chopin: Nohant was the country home of Chopin’s mistress George Sand.• A recital recorded at the Nissay Theatre in Tokyo in 1969 (Franck, Fauré, Debussy)• The 1998 documentary Samson François l’enchanteur, directed by Christian Girier and written by the pianist’s son, Maximilien François, available for the first time in DVD.