Classical CD Reviews

MUSTO: Piano Concerto No. 1; Two Concert Rags; Piano Concerto No. 2 – John Musto, p./ Odense Sym. Orch./ Scott Yoo (Con. No. 1)/ Greeley Philharmonic Orch./ Glen Cortese – Bridge

The music of John Musto fuses an experimental, virtuoso technique with jazz elements whose “groovy fluff” may attract a coterie of devoted listeners.

Published on December 30, 2013

MUSTO: Piano Concerto No. 1; Two Concert Rags; Piano Concerto No. 2 – John Musto, p./ Odense Sym. Orch./ Scott Yoo (Con. No. 1)/ Greeley Philharmonic Orch./ Glen Cortese – Bridge

MUSTO: Piano Concerto No. 1; Two Concert Rags; Piano Concerto No. 2 – John Musto, p./ Odense Sym. Orch./ Scott Yoo (Concerto No. 1)/ Greeley Philharmonic Orch./ Glen Cortese – Bridge 9399, 68:20 (7/15/13) [Distr. by Albany] ***:

John Musto was born in 1954 in Brooklyn, New York. Musto studied at the Manhattan School of Music. After graduation from the conservatory with a reputation as a pianist, his compositions began to draw increasing attention and frequent performances. His long association with such institutions as the New York Festival of Song (including serving as new music advisor), the Wolf Trap Opera Company, the Caramoor Festival, Copland House, the Miller Theatre at Columbia University, and the Moab Festival have given him stable bases of operation and numerous commissions. He served as composer-in-residence at Caramoor for the 2005-2006 season. 

The Piano Concerto No. 1 (1988/2005) fuses a personal lyricism with atonal progressions, more or less obliged to Bartok. A prominent clarinet part suffuses the first movement. Musto likes polyphony, and he utilizes that means to incorporate the keyboard into a concertante part conceived for his own use. The musical structure, ABCBA makes a palindrome, but Musto calls it chiastic. The mix of architecture and chromatic density aligns Musto as much with Hindemith and Blacher as it does the percussive Bartok. The middle movement, Andante grazioso, Musto calls “a Mahlerian Rag.” The writing concentrates on piano and wind instruments in ragtime style, so we might attribute its influence to Stravinsky. The middle section, Vivace, moves more in bravura figures, playful in the upper registers. A piano solo opens the last movement, Scorrevole (flowing), a moto perpetuo for piano, winds, and battery. A jazzy E-flat Minor movement, the writing has some Gershwinesque tissue in the strings, a high pedal, and a big climax. Musto’s music proves “effective,” if not particularly emotionally convincing.

Musto published his five Concert Rags in 1998, admittedly under the spell of William Balcom, Max Morath, William Albright and Fats Waller. We hear two of the set: Regrets and In Stride. In an angular way, each has us reminisce on the movie The Sting. Regrets opens in a tonal A-flat Major but soon meanders into wayward realms pleasantly enough, as a virtuosic etude. In Stride owes its inception to Paris 1990, and it displays an easy, athletic swing that combines Gershwin, Joplin, and James P. Johnson.

The Piano Concerto No. 2 (2006) announces its bravura intentions from the outset. While the scoring remains modest, the demands upon the players – especially the percussionists – certainly rivals the Bartok Sonata for 2 Pianos and Percussion, requiring three players to perform on twenty-one instruments. The textures prove articulate, brilliant, and eminently clear. Some will find an affinity with Musto’s style with that of Alexandre Tcherepnin, especially in their affection for polyphony, or what Tcherepnin termed “interpunct.” Musto himself has a big cadenza in the first movement Tempo giusto, which exploits South American rhythms.

The Molto moderato uses a two-note dotted rhythm to proceed in a bluesy style in half steps that soon brings in the clarinet and its woodwind friends. We hear brushes, muted trumpet, trombone, and piano, moving in a sinuous dance that sounds like derivative Villa-Lobos. The music proceeds to a pungent, martial climax and then fades off on the muted trumpet. A deliberate thud sets off the Allegro energico, attacca, from the slow movement. An extremely eclectic, “hot” style of jazz, Brazilian rhythms, and exotic colors moves this wild music, often employing counterpoints in motion and treatment of the Tico-tico materials from the tropics. We are not so far from Bernstein’s “Mambo” portion of West Side Story, but even more ethnic. Near the conclusion, the style breaks off, Mozart-like, into an askew minuet (con eleganza) whose lyric moment soon yields to the sophisticated groovy fluff of the main rondo theme.

—Gary Lemco




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