Samson François – The Chopin Recordings
Samson François (piano)
Monte Carlo National Opera Orchestra/Louis Frémaux
rec. 1954-69
full track details at end of review
EMI CLASSICS ‘ICON’ 4 55357 2 [10 CDs: 70:48 + 69:32 + 52:14 + 68:14 + 66:44 + 76:22 + 76:22 + 79:09 + 67:08 + 63:28 + 64:48]
The art of Samson François is celebrated in this all-Chopin box, which captures recordings made between 1954 and 1969. He’d first recorded in the late 1940s, but he was probably at his very finest in the mid-1950s. These ten CDs offer full value for money for the admirer and contain performances elevated and also quixotic, indeed problematic. The unevenness of his surviving recordings is well-known.
I’ve listened to the whole set, alternately marvelling and frowning, sometimes within the space of a single work. His was a highly personalised approach, and unlike, say, Rubinstein who retained a stylistic consistency and persuasive sovereignty over pretty much the whole of Chopin’s music, François seems more or less engaged dependent on form – his Nocturnes are very much better than his Mazurkas, for instance – and the date of recording; his earlier recordings are, on average, very much better than his later ones.
That being the case, in my experience at least, one can take a few brief looks at some of the repertoire to be found in this box of ten discs. The Ballades bring out the sense of dynamism and spontaneity in his playing, certainly in the First, whilst the calm deceptively tranquil opening of the second barely prepares one for the torrential outpouring to come. The fourth tends to rush its bars but it’s still compellingly exciting. The Scherzos are less good, the first in particular being over-stressed and somewhat too italicised. The Concertos are the Monte Carlo National Opera Orchestra/Louis Frémaux traversals, not the – by common consent – rather superior earlier, mono Georges Tzipine-conducted set. I certainly don’t find the opening movement of the E minor Allegro maestoso risoluto; it’s rather more Maestoso ponderosa.
The Etudes, strangely enough, don’t provoke very much seeming interest from him. He thumps in the first of Op.10, whilst the second is over-deliberated. The C sharp minor from the Op.25 set is rather too cool. Altogether he evinces a rather phlegmatic approach and what one assumes would produce in him moments of grandeur and heroism, tend to hang fire. The Nocturnes I find uneven. The E flat, Op.9 No.2, is not obviously ingratiating, and is cool and clear. But Op.15 No.1 is finely done, and for every rather plodding nocturne there’s another that evinces an essential integrity, a refusal to indulge the gestural, that does impress. Op.55 No.1 tends to limp along, though with a degree of implied intensity, but Op.62 No.2 just plods. His Op.28 Preludes can be wilful, even idiosyncratic, but his digital dexterity is never in doubt, indeed is potent. The ‘raindrop’ is powerfully characterised, whilst the G minor [No.22] is terse, tense and a true agitato.
The Polonaises vary. The first of the two Op.26 set is pulled out of shape, whilst the first of Op.40 sounds too effortful, though the second is much better. His Sonatas offer contrasts. The Second is rather brittle sounding in both tonal quality and engineering but has plenty of rich characterisation in recompense, not least a good funeral march. The companion Third sonata opens rather ponderously and its Largo is half-hearted. The Mazurkas really don’t cut the mustard and even the booklet writer can’t summon any enthusiasm for them. Nevertheless there are some things that come off; Op.30 No.2 has some rich charm, and the vocalised registers of Op.33/4 come over well.
I’ve stressed the negatives to give those unfamiliar with the pianist’s art a fair indication of what they’re getting, or what I think they’re getting. There are bigger François boxes out there embracing the whole width of his repertoire, but if it’s just his Chopin you’re after then you can’t beat this for price, or space-saving practicality.
Jonathan Woolf
If it’s just Francois’s Chopin you’re after then you can’t beat this for price, or space-saving practicality.

Full Track Details
CD 1
Piano Concerto No.1 in E minor Op.11 [39:41]
Piano Concerto No.2 in F minor Op.21 [31:16]
CD 2
Polonaise N°1 En Ut Dièse Mineur Op.26 N°1 [6:26]
Polonaise N°2 En Mi Bémol Mineur Op.26 N°2 [7:49]
Polonaise N°3 En La Majeur Op.40 N°1 ''Militaire'' [4:39]
Polonaise N°4 En Ut Mineur Op.40 N°2 [5:53]
Polonaise N°5 En Fa Dièse Mineur Op.44 [1:12]
Polonaise N°6 En La Bémol Majeur Op.53 ''Héroïque'' [7:30]
Polonaise N°7 En La Bémol Majeur Op.61 ''Polonaise Brillante'' [12:23]
Andante Spianato Et Grande Polonaise En Mi Bémol Majeur Op.22 [13:41]
CD 3
Polonaise Posthume En Re Min Op.71 No.1 [4:38]
Polonaise Posthume En Si Bem Majeur Op.71 No.2 [6:35]
Polonaise Posthume En Fa Min Op.71 No.3 [6:10]
Fantaisie En Fa Mineur Op.49 [13:15]
Tarentelle En La Bemol Majeur Op.43 [3:35]
Barcarolle En Fa Diese Majeur Op.60 [8:26]
Rondo Pour 2 Pianos En Ut Majeur Op.73 [9:12]
CD 4
Ballade N°1 En Sol Mineur Op.23 [7:37]
Ballade N°2 En Fa Majeur Op.38 [6:45]
Ballade N°3 En La Bémol Majeur Op.47 [7:00]
Ballade N°4 En Fa Mineur Op.52[ 9:15]
Scherzo N°1 En Si Mineur Op.20 [8:23]
Scherzo N°2 En Si Bémol Mineur Op.31[10:70]
Scherzo N°3 En Ut Dièse Mineur Op.39 [6:39]
Scherzo N°4 En Mi Majeur Op.54 [11:51]
CD 5
Valse N°1 En Mi Bémol Majeur Op.18 ''Grande Valse Brillante'' [4:58]
Valse N°2 En La Bémol Majeur Op.34 N°1 ''Valse Brillante'' [5:20]
Valse N°3 En La Mineur Op.34 N°2 [4:46]
Valse N°4 En Fa Majeur Op.34 N°3 ''Valse Brillante'' [2:31]
Valse N°5 En La Bémol Majeur Op.42 [4:24]
Valse N°6 En Ré Bémol Majeur Op.64 N°1 [1:53]
Valse N°7 En Ut Dièse Mineur Op.64 N°2 [2:54]
Valse N°8 En La Bémol Majeur Op.64 N°3 [4:80]
Valse N°9 En La Bémol Majeur Op.69 N°1 [4:17]
Valse N°10 En Si Mineur Op.69 N°2 [3:23]
Valse N°11 En Sol Bémol Majeur Op.70 N°1 [1:57]
Valse N°12 En Fa Mineur Op.70 N°2 [3:10]
Valse N°13 En Ré Bémol Majeur Op.70 N°3 [1:54]
Valse N°14 En Min Mineur Op. Posthume [3:20]
Impromptu N°1 En La Bémol Majeur Op.29 [3:40]
Impromptu N°2 En Fa Dièse Majeur Op.36 [5:35]
Impromptu N°3 En Sol Bémol Majeur Op.51 [4:18]
Impromptu N°4 En Ut Dièse Mineur Op.66 ''Fantaisie-Impromptu'' [4:18]
CD 6
Sonate No.2 En Si Bemol Mineur Op.35 [18:42]
Sonate No.3 En Si Mineur Op.58 [25:57]
4 Mazurkas Op.6
N°1 En Fa Dièse Mineur [1:33]
N°2 En Ut Dièse Mineur [1:36]
N°3 En Mi Majeur [1:33]
N°4 En Mi Bémol Mineur [0:28]
Mazurka No.5 En Si Bemol Majeur Op.7 No.1 [1:10]
Mazurka No.6 En La Mineur Op.7 No.2 [1:23]
Mazurka No.7 En Fa Mineur Op.7 No.3 [2:80]
Mazurka No.8 En La Bemol Majeur Op.7 No.4 [0:50]
Mazurka No.9 En Ut Majeur Op.7 No.5 [0:30]
Mazurka No.10 En Si Bemol Majeur Op.17 No.1 [1:46]
Mazurka No.11 En Ut Majeur Op.17 No.2 [1:55]
Mazurka No.12 En La Bemol Majeur Op.17 No.3 [3:32]
Mazurka No.13 En La Mineur Op.17 No.4 [4:10]
Mazurka No.14 En Sol Mineur Op.24 No.1 [1:42]
Mazurka No.15 En Ut Majeur Op.24 No.2 [1:50]
Mazurka No.16 En Sol Mineur Op.24 No.3 [1:70]
Mazurka No.17 En Si Bemol Mineur Op.24 No.4 [3:48]
CD 7
Mazurka No.18 En Ut Mineur Op.30 No.1 [1:27]
Mazurka No.19 En Si Mineur Op.30 No.2 [1:13]
Mazurka No.20 En Re Bemol Majeur Op.30 No.3 [2:14]
Mazurka No.21 En Ut Diese Mineur Op.30 No.4 [3:21]
Mazurka No.22 En Sol Diese Mineur Op.33 No.1 [1:38]
Mazurka No.23 En Re Majeur Op.33 No.2 [2:19]
Mazurka No.24 En Ut Majeur Op.33 No.3 [1:42]
Mazurka No.25 En Si Majeur Op.33 No.4 [4:41]
Mazurka No.26 En Ut Diese Mineur Op.41 No.1 [3:17]
Mazurka No.27 En Mi Mineur Op.41 No.2 [2:21]
Mazurka No.28 En Si Majeur Op.41 No.3 [1:80]
Mazurka No.29 En La Bemol Majeur Op.41 No.4 [1:42]
Mazurka No.30 En Sol Majeur Op.50 No.1 [1:57]
Mazurka No.31 En La Bemol Majeur Op.50 No.2 [2:16]
Mazurka No.32 En Ut Diese Mineur Op.50 No.3 [4:25]
Mazurka No.33 En Si Majeur Op.56 No.1 [3:32]
Mazurka No.34 En Ut Majeur Op.56 No.2 [1:29]
Mazurka No.35 En Si Majeur Op.56 No.3 [5:45]
Mazurka No.36 En La Mineur Op.59 No.1 [2:50]
Mazurka No.37 En La Bemol Majeur Op.59 No.2 [2:29]
Mazurka No.38 En Fa Diese Mineur Op.59 No.3 [3:18]
Mazurka No.39 En Si Majeur Op.63 No.1 [2:13]
Mazurka No.40 En Fa Mineur Op.63 No.2 [1:32]
Mazurka No.41 En Ut Diese Mineur Op.63 No.3 [1:43]
Mazurka No.42 En Sol Majeur Op.67 No.1 [1:14]
Mazurka No.43 En Sol Mineur Op.67 No.2 [1:20]
Mazurka No.44 En Ut Majeur Op.67 No.3 [1:33]
Mazurka No.45 En La Mineur Op.67 No.4 [1:36]
Mazurka No.46 En Ut Majeur Op.68 No.1 [1:14]
Mazurka No.47 En La Mineur Op.68 No.2 [2:38]
Mazurka No.48 En Fa Majeur Op.68 No.3 [1:19]
Mazurka No.49 En Fa Mineur Op.68 No.4 [1:47]
Mazurka No.50 En La Mineur [2:50]
Mazurka No.51 En La Mineur [3:30]
CD 8
Etudes Op.10
Etudes Op.25
Nouvelle Etude No.1 En Fa Mineur [2:00]
Nouvelle Etude No.2 En Re Bemol Majeur [1:46]
Nouvelle Etude No. En La Bemol Majeur [2:16]
CD 9
Nocturne No.1 En Si Bémol Mineur Op.9 No.1 [5:14]
Nocturne No.2 En Mi Bemol Majeur Op.9 No.2 [4:15]
Nocturne No.3 En Si Majeur Op.9 No.3 [6:18]
Nocturne No.4 En Fa Majeur Op.15 No.1 [3:48]
Nocturne No.5 En Fa Diese Majeur Op.15 No.2 [3:33]
Nocturne No.6 En Sol Mineur Op.15 No.3 [4:40]
Nocturne No.7 En Ut Diese Mineur Op.27 No.1 [4:53]
Nocturne No.8 En Ré Bémol Majeur Op.27 No.2 [5:33]
Nocturne No.9 En Si Majeur Op.32 No.1 [3:59]
Nocturne No.10 En La Bemol Majeur Op.32 No.2 [4:55]
Nocturne No.11 En Sol Mineur Op.37 No.1 [4:56]
Nocturne No.12 En Sol Majeur Op.37 No.2 [5:19]
Nocturne No.13 En Ut Mineur Op.48 No.1 [6:33]
CD 10
Nocturne No.14 En Fa Dièse Mineur Op.48 No.2 [6:19]
Nocturne No.15 En Fa Mineur Op.55 No.1 [4:25]
Nocturne No.16 En Mi Bemol Majeur Op.55 No.2 [3:59]
Nocturne No.17 En Si Majeur Op.62 No.1 [5:49]
Nocturne No.18 En Mi Majeur Op.62 No.2 [5:21]
Nocturne No.19 En Mi Mineur Op.72 No.1 [3:20]
Preludes Op.28
Samson François (piano)
Monte Carlo National Opera Orchestra/Louis Frémaux
rec. 1954-69
EMI CLASSICS ‘ICON’ 4 55357 2 [10 CDs: 70:48 + 69:32 + 52:14 + 68:14 + 66:44 + 76:22 + 76:22 + 79:09 + 67:08 + 63:28 + 64:48]