GORHAM — The Sunday afternoon concert of French romantic music by pianist Laura Kargul and violinist Ronald Lantz drew a capacity audience to Corthell Hall on the University of Southern Maine’s Gorham campus. The offerings, well played by the experienced duo, included romantic music with and without the capital “R.”
The featured work was the Maine premiere of the Sonata for Violin and Piano (dated 1913-1914 in the program but more likely 1921) of Jacques de la Presle. Pleasant, well-written and sometimes passionate, the sonata is basically fin de siecle salon music that leaves the listener scrambling to recall the predecessors from which it was derived.
Still, it had its moments of inspiration, if not genius. The sonorous chords behind the melody in the opening bars, the drops of water motif in the slow movement and the passionate rising scales in the finale made it well worth hearing, and certainly Romantic.
The Lili Boulanger Nocturne that followed was a delightful piece containing indications of an original talent, cut short at the end of World War I (which also incapacitated her fellow Prix de Rome winner, De la Presle). Before we lament what might have been, we should consider the fate of women composers of equal talent, right into the middle of the 20th century.
Liszt was Hungarian, but he did work in Paris and wrote songs in French, so I guess he counts as a French Romantic. Two songs for soprano, transcribed for the violin, “Oh! quand je dors” and “O Lieb,” showed off Lantz’ fine singing tone. “O Lieb,” which Liszt later turned into the piano recital staple, “Liebestraum,” sounded much better in the original song form.
The Faure “Apres un reve,” which began life as one of three songs, was transcribed for cello, piano and violin by Akira Eguchi, and rearranged for piano and violin, gets a small “r.” Although an early work, based on an Italian poem about perfect love in a dream (“Night, bring back your lies”), it is more imagist than amorous.
After intermission, the program concluded with the gigantic, and sometimes Romantic, Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano of Cesar Franck, written in 1886, three years before his death in relative obscurity. The championing of the sonata by Eugene Ysaye, for whose wedding it was written, contributed to Franck’s posthumous reputation.
If not the finest violin-piano sonata in the repertoire, as Lantz suggested, it is still a work of genius. Its popularity, however, rests upon the final, passionately Romantic stretto. Lantz and Kargul played the opening Allegretto ben moderato, more slowly than usual, as Franck appears to have wanted, and it worked very well, contrasting with the rapid allegro that follows.
The encore, a transcription of Mendelssohn’s Song Without Words, Duetto, was both melodic and Romantic, but prompted one audience member to tell the joke about the man at the door: “I knew he was a violinist because he couldn’t find the entrance and had lost the key.”
Christopher Hyde’s Classical Beat column appears in the Maine Sunday Telegram. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org