Yo-Yo Ma seems to travel with two pianists these days. In December, before a sold-out house in Royce Hall at UCLA, the very popular, Paris-born, Chinese-American cellist appeared in recital with Emanuel Ax, a longtime partner.
Then Tuesday night, barely four months later, Ma showed up at Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena with his other pianistic associate, Jeffrey Kahane. Again, the house was sold out, with an extra 75 seats added in the orchestra pit.
The public is right: With either pianist, Yo-Yo Ma remains a cherishable artist of the highest musical accomplishment, one who apparently communicates deeply to the masses and to connoisseurs alike, and meets his own highest standards at every performance.
With Kahane on Tuesday, Ma did it again.
The two Americans--Ma is now 36, Kahane 35--gave a noble, engrossing performance of a demanding and fascinating program. One heard the music, not the instruments; since complete technical mastery could be taken for granted, the message of each composer arrived unfettered by mechanical considerations. Each score sang, spoke, lamented or rejoiced, according to its character.
The princely qualities of Kahane's probing but effortless pianism cannot be overpraised. This team's completely meshed reading of Leonard Bernstein's Clarinet Sonata--as transcribed by Ma, and heard at UCLA in December--brought out all the best attributes of the sometimes neglected work.
Their serious but balanced approach to Prokofiev's Sonata in C, Opus 119, went against the grain of Rostropovich's familiar, \o7 Angst-\f7 ridden readings, with the bonus that the piece's lyric elements shone all the more clearly. This was Prokofiev without bitterness.
In the Heifetz arrangement, Gershwin's Three Preludes exerted all their jazzy and songful charms. Then, with pristine and stylish grace, Kahane and Ma closed their program with Beethoven's most famous sonata, the one in A, Opus 69.