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Flutist's skillful phrasing a rare treat

Thursday, January 29, 2004

By Andrew Druckenbrod, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Sometimes a critic's role is not just to evaluate but also to spread the word. That's especially true when bad weather keeps half the audience from a concert, as on Tuesday evening at the JCC Katz Auditorium in Squirrel Hill.

The word? That the principal flute position of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra continues to be held by a player of first rank in new flutist Timothy Hutchins.

With the departure of Robert Langevin to the New York Philharmonic and with the history of longtime standout Bernard Goldberg at principal flute, interested parties had a right to wonder if the standard would be continued at the PSO.

Hutchins hasn't yet decided whether to take the position permanently or return to the Montreal Symphony. (Initial contracts allow musicians time to judge various factors.) In the meantime, the Y Music Society recital introduced him and his wife, pianist Janet Creaser Hutchins, to the community in style.

The program showed that Hutchins is the master of many genres. J.S. Bach's Flute Sonata in B minor came first, probably less for chronology's sake than to demonstrate right off the bat that he succeeds in the most serious repertory.

Even in the deliberate progressions of the baroque work, Hutchins' organic approach to the instrument emerged. His skillful phrasing was apparent in his easygoing handling of the perpetual cascade of notes in the opening movement. And his tone was natural -- clear, but enhanced by a love for the innate quality of the instrument.

In contrast to the silvery sound of some performers attempting to transcend the physicality of the flute, Hutchins' relished its full spectrum, bestowing robust flavor to the finale's gigue.

Having proven his worth, Hutchins plunged into some amusement. Samuel Barber's Canzone for flute unveiled a burnished tone that never got sentimental. The effect of Franz Doppler's one-dimensional "Fantaisie pastorale hongroise" was better than the music itself, but the Hutchins pair had fun with the gypsy swing of the showpiece.

In similar fashion came Maurice Ravel's "Piece en forme de habanera" and George Bizet's "Carmen" Fantasy (arranged by Borne). Here Hutchins' tone was wonderfully unfettered.

The surprise of the concert was a flute sonata by the former Soviet bloc composer Otar Taktakishvili. The modality of this work held sly melodic interest, which Hutchins capitalized on at every turn. The first movement was sharply played and the third had the sprightly feel of a water bug darting about.

Post-Gazette classical music critic Andrew Druckenbrod can be reached at adruckenbrod or 412-263-1750.

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