Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Pianist Eugenio Urrutia-Borlando and friends play Mozart, Schubert, and Poulenc

Eugenio Urrutia-Borlando opened a three-concert series.
Artistic vision in a musician can be evident in more ways than through performance itself. It is also signaled by the boldness of scheduling a series of concerts without institutional or organizational support.

Both are qualities that Eugenio Urrutia-Borlando, a Chilean-American pianist and former student at Butler University, displayed in the opening concert of a collaborative series at Indiana Landmarks Center. It was the first of three concerts scheduled for the center this season.

The Grand Hall had a small but appreciative audience Monday night to hear Urrutia-Borlando in performances of Mozart and Poulenc with professional wind players, and of Schubert with pianist Royce Thrush.

He showed himself to be a pianist of impeccable taste and authority, and, as might be expected from the choice of repertoire, thoroughly collegial.

The concert opened with Schubert's Fantasy in F minor for Piano Four Hands in a solid, well-articulated performance. Of the four movements played without pause with some recycling of material, a procedure that was to inspire Franz Liszt, the Scherzo came off particularly lively and unified in effect. In the finale, especially when the fugal writing gathers climactic strength, more purposeful thundering in the bass would have been welcome from Thrush to match Urrutia-Borlando's brilliance in the primo role. Considered as a whole, the performance rang true to the spirit and wealth of detail in this masterpiece.

Collaborating with instruments making up the conventional "woodwind quintet," the pianist offered the cheeky, lightly sentimental modernism of Francis Poulenc in his Sextet for Piano and Winds. The boulevardier spirit of the French composer, sassy and self-possessed, was fully engaged in a performance with Alistair Howlett, flute; Jennifer Christen, oboe; Richard Graef, horn; Mike Muszynski, bassoon; and Sam Rothstein, clarinet. All are Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra members except Howlett, a professional freelance musician and teacher who has played with the ISO.

The rhythmic and harmonic jumble of the opening movement maintained the right coordinated momentum. It entertains a delightful cluster of ideas that the ensemble managed well. The second movement (Divertissement) is chaste in comparison, displaying the tender touch with which Poulenc leavened his occasional bumptiousness. And the finale had the kind of majesty that is more explicit in the composer's sacred music, with a stateliness near the end that was reminiscent of Stravinsky's Symphonies of Wind Instruments.

The Poulenc indicated something about the pianist that got further exhibition in Mozart's Quintet for Piano and Winds, K. 452, a work making use of all the Poulenc players except the flutist. (Mozart's often-reported disdain for the flute stems from one dismissive remark in a letter to his father when the young man was annoyed by certain flute-related obligations; so it should not be taken as a Mozartean principle.)

Compared to the sextet, the quintet's greater alternation of piano and wind sonorities, with some question-and-answer effects cleverly brought to the fore, emphasized how closely Urrutia-Borlando's attack matched the way wind players project individual notes and connect them in phrases.  Rhythmic sparkle and a kind of on-top-of-the-beat oomph were common coin among the five players Monday night. This shared feeling did much to put across the close partnership inherent in the musical materials.

It made me curious to hear how this pianist might vary his touch and phrasing when working with string players. And of course there are many fine examples of quartets and quintets that could be awaiting his sensitivity and insight in future series carrying his name. With worthy colleagues like these, the concert invited the listener to anticipate such collaborations eagerly.