Many of the world’s concert traditions have been disrupted by the pandemic during the past year, but one of the most beloved traditions in the Portland area is being preserved, the annual Valentine’s Day concert presented by the violin/piano duo Ronald Lantz and Laura Kargul. Their concert, “Valentines from Better Times,” will be streamed online at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 14, from Corthell Concert Hall at the University of Southern Maine’s Gorham Campus.

The program includes sonatas by Johannes Brahms and Jean-Marie Leclaire, as well as shorter pieces by Jules Massenet, Richard Strauss, Amy Beach and Jacques de La Presle. “All of these works are infused with passion and beauty, evoking ‘better times,’ when romance was not constrained by masks and social distancing,” says Lantz. “Life will return to those days in the not-too-distant future, we hope, but for now we need gorgeous music to take us there.”

Lantz and Kargul will perform Brahms’ Sonata No. 2 in A Major, considered to be the most lyrical of his three sonatas for violin and piano. “Brahms wrote this work while happily on vacation in Thun, Switzerland, and perhaps that is why it exudes such a sunny warmth,” says Kargul.  “But we suspect that another key to understanding its character lies in Brahms’ quotation from one of his own songs in the last movement. His godson, Felix Schumann, the youngest child of Robert and Clara Schumann, wrote the ecstatic love poem set in the song, ‘Meine Liebe ist grün wie der Fliederbusch’ (My Love is Green Like the Lilac Bush).  Brahms was in his 50’s when he wrote this sonata, but as always, it seems that his beloved Clara Schumann must have been in mind.”

In complete contrast is the Baroque composer Jean-Marie Leclaire’s Sonata in D Major, Op. 9 No. 3. This four-movement work features a particularly romantic and poignant Sarabande surrounded by exuberant dancelike movements. “The title of the raucous last movement gives the sonata its nickname, the Tambourin,” says Lantz. “It sounds a bit like 18th century fiddling, with virtuosic figuration over drone tones and a drumlike piano part.  It’s terrific fun to play, if a bit hair-raising.”

Several shorter and intimately passionate works will complete the program: the well-loved “Méditation” from Massenet’s opera, Thaïs, an arrangement of the Strauss song “Morgen,” Amy Beach’s gentle “Berceuse,” and two works by French composer Jacques de La Presle, his “Chanson Intime” and “Chant Triste.”

Ronald Lantz has taught and concertized in over 30 countries as a founding member of the Portland String Quartet. He has also performed with numerous symphony orchestras both as soloist and as principal player and has served on the faculties of the University of New Hampshire, Bates College, the University of Southern Maine, Bowdoin College and Colby College, where he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate Degree. Lantz’s violin and bow were made in Paris in the 1850’s by the renowned instrument and bow maker, Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume.

Laura Kargul is the Director of Keyboard Studies at the University of Southern Maine School of Music. She has appeared as a soloist and collaborative artist throughout Europe and the USA, as well as in Canada and the West Indies, in venues such as the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival, the Liszt-Haus in Weimar, the Aspen Music Festival, the Evian Festival of Chamber Music and the Chamber Music Festival of Lucca in Italy. She holds a doctorate in piano performance from the University of Michigan, where she studied with pianists Leon Fleisher and Theodore Lettvin and conductor Gustav Meier.

Lantz and Kargul formed their duo after performing together for the first time in a Portland String Quartet concert in 2010. Over the years, they have appeared before enthusiastic audiences at venues from Maine to Jamaica. Allan Kozinn of the Portland Press Herald has praised Lantz’s “beautiful tone with a rich, inviting vibrato,” Kargul’s “fluidity and passion,” and their “sense of equal, balanced interplay that makes this collaboration work so well.”

“Valentines from Better Times” is sponsored by Dr. Newell and Tenney Augur and Piper Shores. It is being co-presented by the Portland String Quartet Society and the University of Southern Maine School of Music.

Tickets and information can be found at usm.maine.edu/music or (207)780-5555.

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