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The French pianist Samson François (1924–1970) recorded three complete Chopin sequences: the ballades, which brought him his first great success on record, the nocturnes and the polonaises. François learned his Chopin from Alfred Cortot, from whom he inherited a visionary style which suits the polonaises particularly well. (By an irony, Cortot himself played these works relatively rarely and recorded almost none of them.)
It was Chopin that François chose for his first recordings, which he made at the end of the 1940s on the Brunswick label. He recorded the polonaises twice: first in mono in 1958; then the present stereo version, made in the Salle Wagam in 1968 and 1969. There is no fundamental change of conception. If the mono recording benefits from the natural acoustic of the Salle de la Mutualité and at times offers something more rapt, it also affords less bel canto in the right hand too: the effect is more battling than dancing,so to speak.
Above all, these polonaises achieve a dramatic tension that sets them apart from other contemporary versions on disc: neither Rubinstein, supremely elegant as always, nor Stefan Askenaze, who cherishes the dance element, approach these works with such intensity.
The couplings are a handful of late works recorded at the end of sessions devoted to the nocturnes: the Trois Nouvelles Etudes, the Tarentelle, the Fantaisie in F minor and the F sharp Barcarolle share the same overcast outlook, and to that extent are a perfect foil to the often exuberant polonaises.
François played all the Chopin that was published in his day: even the C major Rondo for two pianos of 1828, reworked for four hands from an earlier solo piece, and recorded here with the pianist’s lifelong friend Pierre Barbizet.
All tracks are newly transferred and remastered to ART standard at Abbey Road Studios.
Award: Diapason d’Or
“François is not always immaculate, but his playing has real character and flair. The tempos are often unusually brisk, although he never sounds harried or hustled. This is sovereign playing that emphasises Gallic grace.”
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