John Musto’s Quasi-Traditional Piano Concertos

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 7

Sound Quality: 9

In these two piano concertos John Musto obviously attempts to modernize the traditional form. Each work has three movements, and each features plenty of virtuoso fireworks for the soloist–in this case the very capable composer. The scoring is also “traditional plus”, which means the basic symphonic layout plus extra percussion. Harmonically speaking the music is dissonant-melodic, and you can’t help but feel that there are some good tunes lurking beneath the encrustations of extraneous notes and intervals that Musto believes he has to add to make the music feel contemporary. The same observation applies to his glancing references to various popular music idioms. Isn’t that what all quasi-tonal, American composers do nowadays?

In other words, for all their effective showmanship, there’s something generic about these pieces. The First Concerto is rather glum, and features a very long first movement that tends to outstay its welcome. Yes, classical concertos often have long opening movements, but the reasons for that involve the working out of a clear tonal plan and a relationship between solo and ensemble far removed from Musto’s practice. The Second Concerto strikes me as more successful: a buoyant and colorful essay whose three movements are better balanced in terms of overall length yet more varied in expressive range. Separating the two concertos Musto offers the last two of his Five Concert Rags. These might be the most successful works here. Perhaps because they are less ambitious, they don’t strain so much for effect, and their frankly popular idiom permits Musto to endow them with more obviously enjoyable thematic material.

No complaints, though, about the performances. As already suggested, Musto is a fine pianist and, we must assume, the ideal advocate of his own music. Both orchestras play quite well, and the two conductors accompany Musto more than adequately. I do wish I could be more enthusiastic; there’s real compositional craft here, but I can’t help feeling that as a composer Musto, who was born in 1954, has not quite found a distinctive voice.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None

    Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2; Regrets; In Stride (Nos. 4 & 5 of Five Concert Rags)
  • John Musto (piano)
  • Odense Symphony Orchestra, Scott Yoo; Greeley Philharmonic Orchestra, Glen Cortese

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