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Samson François

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Biography

A pupil of Alfred Cortot, but standing apart from others who also studied with the French master, Samson François was a pianist of exceptional persuasiveness in live performance, but only intermittently as arresting in the recording studio. Nonetheless, he left on disc several samples of work approaching his best concert form, albeit with some evidence of the eccentricities critics complained about. His interests were wider than his recorded legacy might suggest; even at his most idiosyncratic, he offered moments of wry humor and rare magic. His life was recalled in some detail in Jérôme Spycket's biography Scarbo, published in 1985. In addition to studies in Paris with Yvonne Lefébure and the esteemed Marguerite Long, François was a student of Alfred Cortot at L'École Normale de Musique, the school Cortot co-founded with Auguste Mangeot. Before François had reached the age of 20, he won the Long-Thibaud Competition and thereafter embarked on a career, one of international scale once WWII had ended. Even during the war, Jacques Thibaud brought François to the attention of Walter Legge, the English recording producer turned wartime concert organizer; François was soon flown to England for an extended tour of factories and camps. Concentrating on the Romantic piano literature, and especially the French repertory, he was acclaimed for his performances of Liszt, 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. François found an appreciative audience in London as well, and enjoyed a largely positive reputation there during his mature years. François' early death denied the world a chance to hear how the pianist might have developed had he lived longer, but his recordings, some reissued in the new millennium, preserve sufficient work of high interest to assure him a place as a major artist. Among his remastered and re-released recordings are discs of the Chopin and Ravel piano concertos on EMI's Great Recordings of the Century series. The former, recorded with the Orchestre National de L'Opera de Monte Carlo and its then-director Louis Frémaux, reveals much of what made François special. Containing what Gramophone Magazine deemed "personal and immediate" playing, the artist's quicksilver intensity was awarded with a Diapason d'Or upon its original release. The Ravel recording holds both the concertos, accompanied by André Cluytens and the Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire, and a mercurial account of the composer's Gaspard de la nuit, all of it a fitting remembrance of an artist who pursued his own singular vision. This disc was originally a recipient of the Prix de L'Académie du Disque français. Among François' other pursuits was that of composition. Among his recordings is one of his own piano concerto. In addition, he once composed music for the legendary jazz singer and cabaret artist Peggy Lee.

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