ESPOSITO: Piano Concerto No. 1 in f♯ min., “Fantastico.” Piano Sonata No. 1 in Bb min. / Roberto Esposito, pno; Budapest Scoring Symphonic Orchestra; Eliseo Castrignano, cond / Grand Piano Overtone GP781
Thirty-four-year old composer Roberto Esposito has written these large-form works, a Piano Concerto as a Sonata, in part to pay homage to the great composers of the past and in part to inject some elements of music close to his heart, jazz and “folk music of the Mediterranean.” The latter can already be heard in the opening of the first movement of the concerto, though it quickly shifts to a late-Romantic aesthetic in the oboe passage with strings. Surprisingly, the piano’s entrance shifts gears once again, introducing an alternate theme that is then dovetailed into the orchestra, now playing staccato chords behind him. The ensuing solo portion of the music is indeed jazz-oriented, assuming a swing beat against the otherwise formal backdrop. But Esposito has more surprises in for us, alternating classical and jazz phrasing as the music progresses, and he even gets the orchestra’s basses to play a quasi-syncopated pizzicato figure behind him and the winds. Swirling piano figures are then introduced, against which the orchestra’s rhythms shift to a Latin beat. Esposito falls into line with this, playing a Latin beat with his left hand and arpeggiated figures with his right, and the extempore “break” sounds improvised. But this isn’t half as surprising as the following solo piano cadenza, which is pure jazz, relaxing the tempo halfway through it and introducing a sort of syncopated canon above single bass notes. Although I enjoyed it, these juxtapositions seemed to me not necessarily forced but not fully integrated structurally. Esposito is young, though, and enthusiasm clearly predominates in his approach at this stage in his development.
The second movement, “Adagio ironico,” begins with a lush string figure, following which the piano enters playing a lovely theme based on the opening. In the liner notes, Esposito states that this movement “refers to the big-band tradition of Duke Ellington,” but this really isn’t evident until 4:52 into the movement, when the tempo increases slightly and the pianist-composer swings out with a Swing Era-type melody. Sadly, the Budapest strings aren’t into the spirit in their alternating passages; they try, bless them, but end up sounding like Mantovani playing swing. Oddly, the movement ends in the middle of a phrase.
In the third movement, Esposito pays tribute to the Puglian folk dance pizzica salentina. It’s an odd rhythm even as Latin rhythms go, rapid triplets played against a quick 3, and within its quirky beat Esposito is able to introduce jazz inflections. The orchestra’s winds, strings and percussion take their turn in a slower passage, then Esposito re-enters and the music regains its momentum.
The piano sonata begins with quick flourishes, moving (again) in and out of jazz time, but here, since he is the only player, he is in complete control of the musical progression. Again, themes are juxtaposed, as are tempo changes, moving into piano flourishes that, though interesting, don’t seem to jell at first. But Esposito has more surprises in store for us, swinging out when you least expect it and continually switching gears. It’s really more like a piano fantasia than a sonata. There is much more structure in the second movement, which begins with a somewhat classical-sounding theme before moving into a 1950s pop ballad sort of tune with jazz inflections. Later, he improvises on this theme in an interesting fashion with good swing. It’s the third movement that is the most impressive, both in terms of form and a full integration of jazz elements into that form. Very impressive in the way he keeps dovetailing jazz passages into the ongoing musical structure.
The final piece, Indigo Mirage, appears to be played on a celeste with soft strings and a harp in the background. Esposito describes it as “inspired by an adventure-filled trip to the States and Central America.” It’s a nice piece, sort of a pop ballad.
This CD clearly presents an enthusiastic young musician-composer who has good instincts. I’m hoping that, in time, he will refine his art further and produce some truly substantive works. I’m rooting for him!
—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley
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