Notes and Editorial Reviews
Samson François (pn); Stanislaw Skrowaczevski, cond;
John Pritchard, cond;
Alfred Cortot (pn);
ORTF Natl O
EMI 190096 (DVD: 81:51)
Piano concerto No. 1 in e.
Waltz No. 11 in G.
Piano Concerto in G.
Pour le piano:
La plus que lente; L’isle joyeuse
Waltz No. 9 in A?
Samson François’s short but extremely intense life continues to inspire musicians and music-lovers all over the world. Not only was he one of the most phenomenal pianists of his era, he was also a devoted admirer of literature, jazz, and poetry. This extensive variety of artistic occupations is inevitably reflected in François’s music. When he unexpectedly died in 1970 at the early age of 46, the world did not realize what a phenomenal artist had passed away. Samson François’s music-making is always on the brink of the extreme—rhythmically, he swings over the bars, creating a unique and individual world of his own. His interpretations have constantly caused great controversy among critics. It was his extreme choice of tempo, his mannered way of phrasing, and his doubtful taste for rubato that were the most important issues of discussion. In the end however, the genius of his music cannot be denied.
Today, EMI has released an interesting compilation of François’s most beloved composers: Chopin, Ravel, and Debussy. Although most of these works he would also record in the studio, these live performances are of especially great interest. François is in an excellent mood, and his imaginative playing is a treat for the eye and ear. The Chopin and Ravel concertos are both accompanied by the National Orchestra of French Radio. Watching this orchestra play really makes your heart bleed; the orchestral members seem to be utterly bored (in the studio as well as on stage), strings and winds play randomly out of tune and orchestral solos are under-rehearsed (the abominable English horn solo in the poetic second movement of the Ravel concerto is a good example of that). Furthermore, similar bowings were obviously something unknown at the time.
The camerawork is surprisingly modern, with some very uncommon angles filming the pianist’s hands. Generally, the sound is what we expect from this kind of television broadcast recording dating from the 1960s—shrill and bright winds and boxy strings, with hardly any reverberation.
This DVD contains a very nice bonus: Chopin’s Waltz No. 9 in A?, played by Alfred Cortot in 1944. Although Cortot was very old and the lighting is dark and obscure (reminding me of those first scary Dracula movies), it’s a nice addition of some valuable and rare filming material. A very appealing release. Nice work, EMI!
FANFARE: Bart Verhaeghe
Works on This Recording
L'isle joyeuse by Claude Debussy
Samson François (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1904; France
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