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Cellist Ma and Pianist Kahane Mix Up a Fine Musical Blend


Cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Jeffrey Kahane take their celebrity but not their music lightly. Fresh from a pleasurable preconcert talk Monday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the two opted to stay in informal dress and keep talking to the audience for their five-part "Celebrity Recital."

"I didn't feel right playing folk music in tails," Ma said, alluding to Schumann's "Five Pieces in the Popular Idiom," the opening piece. Kahane wryly called the program (music also by Schubert, Messiaen, Franck and Crumb) the "post-preconcert concert."

But for all the genial banter, there was no lack of seriousness or probing musicianship from the artists.

The two couldn't mine depths that aren't in the Schumann, but they did use the attractive character vignettes to establish the collaborative credentials that would be evident throughout the evening.

They breathed and phrased in sync, mirrored each other's dynamics, kept lines alive and deferred prominence where appropriate. Typically, Ma spent almost as much time looking over his shoulder at Kahane as he did looking forward. It was impossible not to share his collegial enthusiasm.

For amiable light and shade, they played Schubert's Sonata for Arpeggione and Piano; for prismatic impressionism they played Messiaen's "Theme et Variations" (originally for violin and piano).

The emotional heart of the program came with Franck's Sonata in A (originally for violin). Kahane began with such pastel delicacy that even Ma's finely coiled tone provided an initial jolt. But the two quickly shared in spontaneously plumbing the composer's lyrical and turbulent musings, to end in triumphant glory.

On his own, Ma played Crumb's moody and insouciant 1955 Sonata for Solo Cello with evident affection. "It is exactly as old as I am," he said.

Astor Piazzolla's "Le Grand Tango," composed for Mstislav Rostropovich, was the encore.

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