Rita Porfiris proved an ideal soloist, as much for her richness of tone and impeccable articulation as for the warmth and subtlety of her phrasing. Polochick again provided nuanced guidance, drawing a refined response from the singers and the orchestra. The haunting slow-fade close, as in “Serenade to Music,” was handled with impressive skill.
Violinist Anton Miller and violist Rita Porfiris met at Juilliard two decades ago and currently teach at the Hartt School. Besides having successful solo and chamber-music careers, they have been a duo since 2005 and have made two previous CDs together.
Robert Fuchs (1847-1927) was the much admired teacher of many turn-of-the-century Viennese composers. His music was praised by everyone from Brahms on down, but we don’t hear much from him today. These Duets tells us why: They are lovely, warm, superbly well-crafted music, yet our attention begins to drift long before the 12 brief pieces conclude. They have nothing to say, and they say it beautifully. The form enhances Fuchs: each new start attracts immediate interest, interest that seldom survives its duration (from 1:10 to 3:28).
Ernst Toch’s opening Vivace molto is a lightning bolt, blasting the Fuchsian cobwebs from ear and mind. The Adagio could be a more modern Fuchs, except that it holds our attention for its nearly five minutes, as does a slashing Flott und lustig (lively and amusing) for three.
Bohuslav Martinů ups the energy level with his typically colorful music. Why isn’t this fascinating composer accepted as a peer to Janáček? Martinů wrote so much music that it’s hard to get the full picture, but what we do know is consistently fascinating. This Duo squeezes a long Lento (6:14) between two Allegros; all suggest an uncharacteristically happy Bartók.
Miller and Porfiris soar through this varied program. During the Fuchs, we note their smooth, rich tones and their two-can-play-as-well-as-one unanimity. Come Toch and Martinů, we hear their color, their fire, their passion. All these aspects are aided by ideal recorded sound; surely, this is how these artists sound.
The Miller-Porfiris Duo offers up a rare aspect of Romantic composer Reinhold Gliere…. 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 double bass, 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.
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.
Concert Artists of Baltimore offered an imaginative mix of standard and far-from-standard fare Saturday night at the Gordon Center. (Arthur) 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.
“Bruch Double Concerto”
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.