Magazine article Gramophone

Francois in Concert: Bryce Morrison Remembers the Playing of a True Original, Whose Live Performances from 1964 Are Newly Issued by Erato

Magazine article Gramophone

Francois in Concert: Bryce Morrison Remembers the Playing of a True Original, Whose Live Performances from 1964 Are Newly Issued by Erato

Article excerpt

Samson Francois delighted in his reputation as an enfant terrible. He gave wildly varying answers to biographical queries (his place of birth, etc) claiming, 'I do not lie. I am living out my imagination.' And if musically speaking some thought he enjoyed tweaking everyone's ears, the truth surely lay in his love of caprice, of music's volatile, ever-changing nature. Several conductors (they included Eugene Ormandy and Pierre Monteux) took a different view, saying they would never work again with a pianist who took such liberties, who went his own way oblivious to orchestra, ensemble line and direction.

In this sense he shared a propensity for freedom with Shura Cherkassky ('in the rehearsal I play real slow, then in the concert I play real fast. I like to keep conductors on their toes.') Yet Francois was entirely his own man. While others (Cherkassky) worked obsessively, Francois feared that long hours in the practice room would blunt his spontaneity. Instead he was frequendy found in Paris's top nightspots, his signature cigarettes and glasses of iced whisky his inseparable companions. His sense of image, too, was strong (his much-discussed 'tassel' was replaced with a turban of silken hair that fell close to eye level) and his legendary charm meant that his friends were happy to rescue him from his chaotic world of missing luggage, tickets and passports. His notion of living life to the full finally destroyed him, and his death at the age of 46 due to drug and alcohol abuse was as unsurprising as it was tragic.

Erato's three-disc album presents Samson Francois live in 1964, free from studio constraints and the often dead hand of a producer, and happy to share his every passing whim and fancy with his adoring Paris public. Few if any pianists have achieved such cult status in their native country. There are three biographies: one by the pianist's son, another by Bernard Gavotty and another entitled Scarbo--a fitting reference to Franijois's elfin appearance. As a boy he caught the attention of Cortot who, sensing an original personality, sent him to Paris to work with Yvonne Lefebure and later with Marguerite Long (who fought unsuccessfully to curb his coltish spirit). During his short life he made a large number of studio recordings, the majority of which fail to capture his unique essence and character. Confined within the studio, he missed the ear- and eye-catching attention lavished on him by his audience, often retreating into an alien 'correctness' backed by less than meticulous preparation. …

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