Times Staff Writer

Since its formation in 1980, the duo of Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax has proved successful in every wise. Locally, the Paris-born cellist of Chinese parentage and the Polish-American pianist, each highly accomplished, have together earned consistent admiration as a team.

In moving outdoors, to the vast spaces of Hollywood Bowl, to appear on the Virtuoso Series on Wednesday night, Ma and Ax took a certain amount of risk.

Famous for the delicacy and wispiness of their soft playing, the duo took a chance on the efficacy of the variable microphoning and sound-dispersal system at the mammoth amphitheater, not to mention notoriously unreliable climatic conditions and changeable humidity. And, of course, the unpredictable appearance of helicopters and light aircraft over Cahuenga Pass.

To the surprise of many observers, luck, fortune and pure chance favored the duo and their program of works by Beethoven, Franck and Brahms.

The sound-system delivered fairly all of their loud- and most of their soft-playing, no dampness swallowed up their instrumental sounds and not a single flying machine hovered over, or even passed by, their first Bowl recital.

Moreover, the 29-year-old cellist and the 36-year-old pianist seemed to perform at the top of their form.

They brought lightness, transparency and solid Classical reserve to Beethoven's Variations on "Bei Maennern, welche Liebe fuehlen"; Gallic mellowness, caressing lyricism and impetuous rhythmic drive to Cesar Franck's beloved Sonata in A. To Brahms' sometimes dense and turgid Sonata in F, they lent a penetrating stylishness that illuminated its inner workings and banished all heaviness.

In all moments, they seemed to think, move and express with a single musical mind and apparatus.

For an encore, they played--exquisitely--the first of Robert Schumann's "Phantasiestuecke," Opus 73.

Official attendance: 5,681.

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