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The Miller-Porfiris Duo offers up a rare aspect of Romantic composer Reinhold Gliere, best known for his brilliantly colored stage and orchestral works, especially the mammoth Third Symphony, Ilya Murometz, which has had something of a cult following in the stereo era. Here, we have a quieter, gentler Gliere, writing for an instrument with which he was intimately familiar, given that his musical education began with violin studies in his native Kiev. In fact, Gliere’s chamber music shows a decided bias toward string instruments: there are four string quartets, three string sextets, and an octet, plus works for doublebass, of all instruments.

Another feature of the Eight Pieces (originally for violin and cello) that’s unusual—since Gliere’s most familiar music is strong on Russian folk elements—is the composition’s neo-Baroque trappings. The work is arranged, like a Baroque suite, as a series of movements with overtones of stylized dance, including a very Bach-like Gavotte and an opening Prelude that seems like a Russian take on Bach’s Preludes and Fugues. True, subsequent movements have a much more Romantic bent: a tender Berceuse; a crooning Canzonetta; and finally an impetuous Impromptu and Scherzo followed by a dazzling Etude. And some of the tunes do have the nature of Russian folk melody, whether original or borrowed. Yet the intimacy of the work plus the skillful polyphonic writing give the whole an appealingly archaic flavor that seems unique in Gliere’s output.

If Gliere’s Eight Pieces (1909) is an early entry in the back-to-Bach movement that would come into full flower after the First World War, Max Bruch’s Eight Pieces of 1910 is a High Romantic work that could have been penned thirty or even forty years before. Again, it’s a suite, but rather than the clearly abstract nature of Gliere’s work, Bruch’s seems to be a series of little character pieces in the tradition of Schumann’s Fantaisiestucke and Fairy Tale Pieces. Like this latter work, Bruch’s was originally scored for clarinet, viola, and piano and written for Bruch’s clarinetist son, Max Felix. Despite Bruch’s self-proclaimed aversion to the piano (odd, since that was his own instrument), the writing for all three instruments is beautifully idiomatic. The ensemble writing is also astute: in Bruch’s hands, the trio makes beautiful music together.

As with all of Bruch’s lovely late music, there is an air of tender melancholy about many of the individual pieces, especially No. 3 and No. 6, both marked Andante con moto; No. 6 also bears the title Nachtgesang (shades of Schubert). If you still think of Bruch as a one-work wonder of a composer, you really should get to know Bruch’s lovely chamber music, including his late String Quintets and Octet, written at the very end of his long life. And of course Eight Pieces.

Despite their youthful appearance in the photo adorning the inside back cover of this CD, the Miller-Porfiris duo is composed of seasoned musical professionals who met while studying at Julliard more than twenty years ago. Both violinist Miller and violist Porfiris studied with storied musical names (Dorothy DeLay, Franco Gulli, William Lincer). They’re widely travelled as performers and teachers and now serve as associate professors at Hartt School of Music in Connecticut, along with their colleague, pianist David Westfall. Obviously, the three have played together before, as evinced by the wonderfully smooth ensemble work in the Bruch. And while the Bruch is widely available in the clarinet version, this is the only rendition I know of with violin. The work has a different sound profile here, a bit less mellow, with more surface sheen, thanks to the timbre of the violin. As for the delightful Gliere, it’s not widely available in any form, so this well-engineered recording of Rita Porfiris’ skillful arrangement is very welcome.

 

Gramophone Magazine

The number of movements in the works on this disc isn't the only thing that binds the repertoire.  Both Reinhold Gliere's Eight Pieces, Op. 39, and Max Bruch's Eight Pieces, Op. 83, are products of 1908-09 and each forgoes the musical language of the time to look back to the Romantic era or even further.  Oh, and another thing: all of these pieces are performed in arrangements, underlining the fact that musicians-like violinist Anton Miller and viola player Rita Porfiris on their fine new recording-are always on the lookout for rewarding works, whatever the original scoring.

Russian composer Gliere wrote his collection for violin and cello, with the latter's dark timbre often giving the music a decidedly melancholic tint.  That said, Porfiris's version for the two higher instruments is also satisfying, especially when violin and viola lightly dance Gliere's Bach-inspired Gavotte or sing with beautiful warmth in the Russian-tinged Canzonetta.

The violin is the new arrival in Bruch's Op. 83, originally for clarinet, viola and piano (though the composer preferred an earlier version with harp instead of piano).  There may be more differentiation with the clarinet in place but the expressive grace and finesse that Miller brings to the violin part more than compensates for any potential loss of character.  He teams seamlessly in these poignant and urgent miniatures with Porfiris, whose sound is vibrant and focused, and pianist David Westfall, who manages Bruch's Brahmsian demands with equal degrees of poetry, richness, and agility.

Baltimore Sun

Concert Artists of Baltimore offered an imaginative mix of standard and far-from-standard fare Saturday night at the Gordon Center.

The familiar work was Mendelssohn's "Scottish Symphony," which received an absorbing performance conducted by Edward Polochick.

He paid great attention to subtle details, especially the woodwind voices, and he ensured that the most atmospheric elements in the score came through vividly (slicing string attacks in the finale evoked a brisk highland breeze). The Adagio, the symphony's eloquent heart, was nobly phrased.

The orchestra sounded cohesive and spirited. As usual, the theater's wonderful acoustics enriched the tone considerably.

As for the less familiar fare, that came from Arthur Benjamin, the Australian-born composer who some of us know primarily for his Elgar-on-steroids cantata "The Storm Clouds," used in both versions of Hitchock's "The Man Who Knew Too Much." (I'd sure love to hear that in concert someday -- maybe with the whole audience being invited to do the scream at the very point where Edna Best, in the 1934 film, and Doris Day, in the 1956 remake, help thwart an assassination.)

Benjamin's 1935 "Romantic Fantasy" for violin, viola and orchestra may not be the most coherrent work in the repertoire, but it is filled with attractive, soaring melodies that give the two solo instruments a great workout. The orchestral side of things is richly colored. 

Violinist Anton Miller and violist Rita Porfiris sailed through the piece with admirable expressive flair and technical poise, smoothly backed by conductor and ensemble. The soloists tossed in a welcome encore -- a souped-up version of the Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia that included a wry touch of Piazzolla -- and played the heck out of it.

Polochick also led the orchestra in two delicious, light pieces by Benjamin, including "Jamaican Rumba," which brought the composer great popularity in the late-1930s.

 

Lincoln Journal-Star

Love was in the air for Saturday night’s “Symphonic Valentine” concert by Lincoln’s Symphony Orchestra at the Lied Center for Performing Arts.

“Three Latin American Dances” by Gabriella Lena Frank is a piece with bearable dissonance, which exhibits a mix of South American cultures.

Percussion variety drove the first of the three dances with good precision. The second movement exhibited an unfamiliar smoothness.

The concluding movement had a paso doble tempo with visions of a mariachi band as it drove to a magnificent conclusion. The 1,000 patrons gave it good applause, and Conductor Ed Polochick saluted the composer, seated in the audience.

LSO Concertmaster Anton Miller and Violist Rita Porfiris joined the orchestra for Max Bruch’s “Double Concerto for Violin and Viola in E Minor.”

The troupe navigated the complex counterpoint well in movement one. Soloists play well together, assisted by their constant attention to each other’s performance nuances.

The attention produced an excellent show for the Miller-Porfiris Duo with standing, cheering patrons wanting more. The Duo responded with a specially-arranged Handel duet, and the house loved it.

It was quite a good night for the two symphony orchestras and the Miller-Porfiris Duo. The house seemed extremely pleased with it all.

Lincoln Journal-Star

Violist Rita Porfiris visited Lincoln for the first time in March, when she came to see her friend and colleague Anton Miller perform Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D major, Opus 64, with Lincoln’s Symphony Orchestra.

She said she remembers sitting in front of two people at the Lied Center for Performing Arts, with one of them saying afterward: “I’ve heard (Itzhak) Perlman play it, and I like this guy’s a little better.”

“Can you make sure you get that in the article? … That I played it better than Perlman,” asked Miller, who had conferenced in on the phone interview with Porfiris.

Both musicians then laughed. The lighthearted banter exemplifies their 30-year friendship, which dates back to when both were students at the Juilliard School. In 2004, they came together as a violin-viola duo.

“What we have together … it’s something that transcends both instruments,” Miller said.

Porfiris is back in Lincoln this week, and this time she’ll share the stage with Miller, the orchestra’s longtime concertmaster.

The Miller-Porfiris Duo will perform Max Bruch’s “Double Concerto for violin and viola” as part of the orchestra’s “A Symphonic Valentine” concert Saturday evening at the Lied Center.

The program, under Maestro Edward Polochick’s direction, will begin with renowned contemporary and Grammy Award-winning composer Gabriela Lena Frank’s “Three Latin American Dances.” The composer will be at the concert to hear her piece. She’ll also join NET Radio’s Lora Black for a preconcert conversation.

The orchestra will swing into full Valentine mode on the second half of the program, with four excerpts from Bizet’s sultry “Carmen” and Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet.” The Lincoln Youth Symphony will join LSO on the “Carmen” excerpts.

Miller and Porfiris teach at The Hartt School in West Hartford, Conn., where they also perform in other's chamber ensembles. But they said there's been something special about their violin-viola duo.

“When we played together, it really was like one instrument playing,” Miller said. “We kept looking for other people to match that, but we couldn’t come close. We, of course, like to play with other people, but we seem to have a special connection.”

Miller said their goal is to continue the viola-violin tradition of brother-and-sister Joseph and Lillian Fuchs, arguably the most famous violin-viola duo.

“They set the standard,” he said.

The duo is committed to expanding the repertoire for the two instruments, which Porfiris admitted is limited.

“Everybody wants us to play Mozart (the composer’s concerto for violin and viola), and we played it quite a bit this past year,” Miller said. “It’s the one everybody knows and is justifiably famous.”

So in 2010, they commissioned and recorded three new works for violin and viola by Belize-born British composer Errollyn Wallen, Argentinean composer Mario Diaz Gavier and American composer Libby Larsen for their debut CD “Five Postcards.”

Last fall, they released their second CD, “Eight Pieces.” It contains a version of Eight Pieces Op. 83 by Bruch for violin and viola and a new arrangement by Rita of Reinhold Gliere's Eight Pieces Op. 39 for violin and viola.

“(The duo) has just sort of evolved,” Miller said. “We’ve invested in the repertoire, have had commissions and been transcribing things.

"One thing has led to another.”

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