Concert reviews

Miller, Porfiris wow crowd during Saturday’s Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra performance New London -- Violinist Anton Miller and violist Rita Porfiris wowed a packed Garde Arts Center Saturday during an Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra concert that featured them in the demanding "Sinfonia Concertante" (K.364) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Playing on Mozart's 262nd birthday, the so-called Miller-Porfiris Duo, who are both on the faculty at the Hartt School of Music in Hartford, played the score to the hilt, he with lightning quick hands and the stance of a boxer and she with impeccable counter-punch timing and charming phrasing. The duo was never so affecting as in the slow second movement, a love song that constantly shifted between the impetuous violin and the imploring viola wrapped in beautiful Mozart melodies and exquisitely played. "It's one of Mozart's greatest concertos," Miller enthused in a pre-concert talk, noting that his 1780 violin likely had begun construction a year earlier, in the same year Mozart penned the piece. Miller and Porfiris provided a few extra smiles when they gave the audience an encore piece, the Hoe-down from Aaron Copland's "Rodeo." The tour de force elicited a long ovation. ” - Lee Howard

— The (New London) Day

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. ” - John Cutler

Lincoln Journal-Star

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.” 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.” - Tim Smith

— Baltimore Sun

For “divertimenti”

There is more superb string playing on Divertimenti, the new CD from the Miller- Porfiris Duo ( of violinist Anton Miller and violist Rita Porfiris featuring duos by Robert Fuchs, Ernst Toch and Bohuslav Martinů. The players, who met at Juilliard over 20 years ago, have been playing together since 2005, and you would have to go a long way to hear better duet playing than this. Fuchs died in 1927, and consequently did not experience the growing Nazi influence in Austria in the 1930s. His students included Erich Korngold and Alexander Zemlinsky (both of whom fled Nazi Europe for the United States) and Gustav Mahler. His 12 Duette Op.60 date from 1898, when Fuchs was on the faculty of the Vienna Conservatory, and are beautifully crafted short pieces redolent of Vienna in the years before the Great War. Toch was born in Vienna and entered Fuchs’ composition classes at the Conservatory in 1900 at the age of 12. He emigrated to the United States in 1934, settling in Los Angeles and writing numerous film scores. His Divertimento Op.37 No.2 for Violin and Viola is a short (under ten minutes) three-movement work with a brilliant Vivace molto that packs a real punch. Porfiris quite rightly notes the work’s “expressive dissonance and frenetic energy.” Martinů also emigrated to the United States, in his case in 1941 after being blacklisted by the Nazis in France. He was successful in America, but never really felt happy or settled, finally returning to Europe in 1956. His Duo No.2 for Violin and Viola H.331 was written in 1950, and is a bright, melodic three-movement work with decided Czech rhythms. Miller and Porfiris are in great form throughout the CD, both playing with a warm, rich tone and with a clarity, spirit and bright- ness that serves these delightful works perfectly.” - Terry Robbins

— The Whole Note

Albums of violin and viola duets are not impossibly rare on disc these days, fortunately, as they afford the opportunity – and this, on the other hand, is quite rare – of hearing the complete cycle of Robert Fuch’s Twelve Duets, Op.60. That’s part of the undertaking made here by the long established American duo of Anton Miller and Rita Porfiris and they craft each of the pieces with thought and care. Fuchs, professor of composition and theory at the Vienna Conservatory, published the duets in 1898. The short vignette pieces attest to the spirit of geniality and warmth that ran through his music, famously in the case of the popular Serenade, and that so endeared him to Brahms. In 1905 he made a transcription of the duos for violin and piano. The duets embrace a large quotient of charm (No.1) as well as peppy sense of baroque-tinged wit (No.3) and lilting dance themes, as in No.4. Fuchs ensures that both instruments can be heard fully and sonorously and that they retain their own timbral individuality. There’s a gemütlich touch to the fifth of the set which is a little Brahmsian in the way that Fuch’s violin sonatas are infused with Brahms’ influence. No.6 is songful and again shows Fuchs’s ability to make a real ensemble sound out of the two instruments and to make that sound richer and more resonant than it might otherwise be. No.9 is jaunty, 10 relatively fast-paced and No. 11 a gracious slow waltz. The first recording of any of these duos came back in 1921 on a Vocalion disc, where Albert Sammons and Lionel Tertis played numbers 3, 4 and 9 with the kind of romanticist spirit and infectious dynamism that has seemingly disappeared form the face of the planet. That performance can still be heard on Biddulph, in a disc devoted to Tertis’ acoustic recordings. Ernst Toch’s Divertimento, Op.37 No.2 was composed in 1926 just before the Viennese-born Toch emigrated. This was a piece to which Heifetz and Piatigorsky turned, refashioning it, partially, for violin and cello in 1965. But this latest entrant significantly improves on that arrangement by presenting the real thing. The three-movement work is brisk, brusque even, intense and exciting and full of expressive dissonances. The finale meanwhile has a tart, almost satiric profile, though the emergent melody and March themes are expertly played. Martinů’s Duo No.2 also receives a wise and valuable reading. Miller and Porfiris catch its songfulness and energetic brio and if, in the final resort, they lack a touch of expressive depth in the central, slow movement, they do project a spare, rather reserved view that reflects credit on them. The two Viennese composers and the Czech make for intriguing guests on this disc. The artwork and notes are particularly imaginative and attractive, and if the programme appeals the performances support the premise admirably. ” - Jonathan Woolf

— Fanfare Magazine

Energetic and superbly well-matched, the Miller Porfiris Duo offers what appear to be the first complete performance of Fuchs’ overlooked 12 Duets. Written by a teacher of Mahler and Korngold, these pieces sparkle and delight. A friend to Brahms, we should know more of this neglected Viennese composer’s music. Another Fuchs student, Toch wrote this expressive and not particularly dissonant duet several years before he fled Europe for America. Apparently two-thirds of the “Million Dollar Trio” recorded excerpts due to a misunderstanding: Heifetz had prepared the wrong piece (Op. 37, No. 1 is for violin and cello) and convinced Piatigorsky to read the viola part of Op. 37, No. 2 instead. Also in three movements, like Toch’s Divertimento, the Martinů Duo is crisp and lively in its outer Allegros but somber in a central Lento. There is no mistaking this composer’s harmonies and angular Mozartisms. (“Duo No. 1” is the more familiar Three Madrigals for violin and viola from 1947.) This release was privately made but has excellent sound quality, notes and presentation.” - Grant Chu Covell

— String Theory

For “Eight Pieces”

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.” - Donald Rosenberg

Gramophone Magazine

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.” - Lee Passarella

— Audiophile Audition