The repertory for violin and viola duo is quite large, yet few concertgoers can list more than a handful of pieces, beyond the Mozart Duos, transcriptions of Bartók’s works for two violins and Johan Halvorsen’s arrangement of a harpsichord Passacaglia.

Robert Lehmann, a violinist best known as the director of the string and orchestral programs at the University of Southern Maine, and Kimberly Lehmann, a violist in the Portland Symphony Orchestra who also teaches at the Portland Conservatory of Music and USM, took a step toward redressing that gap on Thursday afternoon, when they played a recital for the conservatory’s Noonday Concerts series at First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church.

The Lehmanns, who are married, opened their program with a historical oddity, the Duo Concertante in E flat major (Op. 5) by Alessandro Rolla, a composer, violinist, violist and conductor who was renowned in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, but who is today best known as the teacher of the violin virtuoso and composer Nicolò Paganini.

The Duo Concertante was published in Paris around 1820, nearly 30 years after Mozart’s death and more than a decade after Haydn’s. But it breathes the air of an earlier time: You hear much of the elegance and playfulness you find in Haydn’s and Mozart’s chamber music, but not quite the same level of adventurousness and originality. And considering that Beethoven was completing his late string quartets, and his Ninth Symphony, around the same time, this three-movement score sounds even more like a conservative throwback.

What it offers, though, is a look at how a skilled composer with an intimate sense of both instruments was able to use two melody instruments to create a rich, full-bodied texture – and a thoroughly democratic one, in the sense that both instruments share the spotlight equally. Particularly in the central movement, a theme and variations set, the violin has the sometimes intricate, sometimes soaring solo line for one variation, but in the next, the focus passes to the viola, with the violin taking over the throaty, arpeggiated accompaniment. Elsewhere, the two instruments play tandem, sweetly harmonized lines.

Making a piece like this sound like something more than agreeable ephemera takes considerable interpretive moxie, backed with a solid technique and a rich tone, a combination of qualities that both players demonstrated amply.

But the real find here was Manuel Ponce’s Sonata a Duo (1938). Ponce, a Mexican composer best known for his substantial contributions to the classical guitar repertory, was an inventive melodist who wrote in a sophisticated but conservatively consonant style.

Unlike Rolla, whose sensibility demanded that one instrument explore the theme while the other accompanies, Ponce kept the violin and viola on an equal footing from the first bar to the last. Neither can be said to be in the lead or in the background; instead, both have consistently strong material, with the gently angular and intense outer movements presented as a dark-hued, contrapuntal fabric, and the central slow movement etched in lush, chordal textures.

As a built-in encore, the Lehmanns played Schubert’s “Der Erlkönig” in an effective transcription by C.G. Wolff. The original, a vocal setting of a Goethe poem, with a rippling, dramatic piano accompaniment, should be on everyone’s Halloween playlist: It tells of a father and his son, pursued through the woods by Death. The violin and viola version lacks the text, of course, but even on its own, Schubert’s music, with its sinister bass line and plaintive melody, vividly captures the poetry’s inherent sense of terror.

This version distributes the vocal line to both instruments, evoking the song’s three characters clearly, and splits the accompaniment, so that the viola plays the quickly rising and falling bass line, while the violin has the repeated tones that create the work’s spooky tension. The Lehmanns captured its spirit with a perfect balance of grittiness and tragedy.

Allan Kozinn is a former music critic and culture writer for The New York Times who lives in Portland. He can be contacted at:

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