They're gifted. They're couture-chic. They play with enormous flair, not to mention virtuosity.
And, alone on stage at Hollywood Bowl, they can do the impossible: conquer the vast, open spaces. Katia and Marielle Labeque did not just make their recital debut Wednesday in Cahuenga Pass, they gloried in it. No matter that a duo should seem ridiculously out of place at the mammoth amphitheater. With their four hands and two pianos, the talented sisters made mountains of compelling sound.
Part of their success could be laid to clever programming. They chose music with varying degrees of extroversion and a consistent sense of structure. They countered the cerebral complexities of Bach and Stravinsky with boldly colorful entries by Albeniz and Infante. They even managed to come into some clever "West Side Story" transcriptions, for a deliriously good measure.
But, most of all, the Labeques dug in and scooped up the music. They possessed it utterly. And that is what made the difference Wednesday.
Katia, the more outgoing and dominant of the two, freely and spontaneously attacked the music. And the attack was considerable. Small but mighty, she bounced up from her bench to get the force of leverage for some powerfully percussive passage. Marielle, the sensualist, doted more on the soft centers.
When they opened with the original duo version of Bach's Concerto in C for two keyboards, BWV 1061, the Labeques set down a collaborative and musical standard. This was not to be a square, regularized account, but one of great gusto and flourish, one with precise coordination of dynamic variety--no easy feat when single-mindedness for two is required.
In the rare-treat category they offered another original duo version of a work later orchestrated: Stravinsky's Concerto for two solo pianos. And here the Labeques provided the evening's piece de resistance. Their combination of razor-sharp technique and vivid characterization made one realize that the composer's balletic Paris period did not get lost when he turned to the neo-classic and beyond.
The work's rhythmic verve became a controlled explosion in the Labeques' hands. The playful whimsy had fly-away final notes, sometimes conveying the musical equivalent of a raised eyebrow, and the sly languor tantalized. A motoric tenacity made the performance riveting.
After intermission the French women looked to Spain. Two series of dances had them together at one keyboard for the Albeniz and separated again for the Infante. One or the other composer may have been enough. But the pianists made such a strong case for the Hispanic plangencies and soulful outpourings of these similar scores that show-biz sense proved the better part of musical valor. Or so it seemed for the assembled 7,377.