Katia and Marielle Labeque continue to get a lot of mileage out of their unique fire-and-ice stage act, with Katia always the possessed, electrified demon and Marielle always placidly going about her work. And musically, they continue to whip up excitement, sometimes recklessly so.
In their Friday night appearance at Royce Hall, the duo-piano team came armed with a program called "Ravel and Spain," which established a Latin kinship of sorts with UCLA's current Mexican Chamber Music series. The Spanish segments, though, were often dangerously overheated: Five piano pieces by Albeniz, mangled in a slapdash, blurred, overbearingly tempestuous manner; and a sometimes metallic-sounding treatment of Manuel Infante's rhapsodic "Tres Danzas Andaluzas."
Thankfully, the Labeques were able to maintain their poise and their power in the two Ravel showpieces. In the two-piano version of "Rapsodie Espagnole," the Labeques displayed plenty of wandering mystery, firm rhythm, brittle yet controlled explosions, and well-judged rubatos. In its own way, the "Ma Mere l'Oye" suite for piano four hands was a model of limpid yet clearly-etched, logically organized, comfortably paced, technically impeccable teamwork.
The encores were just as intriguing and uneven as the announced program. First, the Labeques knocked off an overly ornate two-piano arrangement of Gershwin's Three Preludes, bludgeoning the first and third ones (the incoherent performance of the third must have set some kind of speed record) but handling the second one tastefully.
Then they offered a violently dynamic performance of the Dominican-born jazz pianist Michel Camilo's "Caribe," which veered exuberantly across the spectrum from Gershwin to salsa.