Audrey Vardanega and Eric Zivian

More than a century after its premiere, The Rite of Spring is still an untamed beast. From its pagan scenario to its furious rhythms, sinuous harmonies, and eerily becalmed interludes, the work sets an animal energy loose every time it’s performed.

The Rite was both the centerpiece and defining premise of Left Coast Chamber Ensemble’s “Wild Music,” heard on Monday, Jan. 31 at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. The ensemble, in this case, was the duo piano team of Audrey Vardanega and Eric Zivian. Performing on a single Steinway, they devoted the second half of the evening to the prodigious four-hand arrangement of the celebrated 1913 Igor Stravinsky ballet score.

The recital opened with the musical equivalent of speed dating: three two-minute world premieres, each a Left Coast-commissioned response in one way or another to The Rite. A (mostly) kinder, gentler nature prevailed in the other long-form piece on the program, Series 1 of Leoš Janáček’s On an Overgrown Path (1900–1911).

Dean Kervin Boursiquot

Described by the composer in a program note as “a hip-hop-inspired remix,” Dean Kervin Boursiquot’s “Hammered” spun a direct quote from the Stravinsky score into a whirl of running, off-accented lines. Jack Langdon’s “motionless rite,” by striking contrast, lived up to its name. Sudden, unpredictably cadenced chords articulated extended rests — “gestural contrasts,” in Langdon’s words, aimed at a “feeling of silent, motionless intensity.”

Trey Makler’s “get-together” was the best in show in this triptych of four-hand miniatures. With The Rite’s keening, meandering bassoon solo deftly disguised inside some busy figuration and uneasily shifting harmonies, the piece made the most of its attenuated running length.

Vigorously played as they were, all three pieces left a listener wanting more. Two minutes may be more than enough time to decide whether a prospective date might work out. Attraction, or the absence of it, registers quickly. With music, especially something new heard for the first time, getting acquainted is a slower process. Perhaps, if and when these short works get another airing, each one could be played twice.

With Vardanega and Zivian trading off, the 10 solo pieces in Janáček’s Path charted an uneven course. Passages of delicate but decisive scene painting (Zivian’s rendition of “A Blown-Away Leaf,” Vardanega’s quizzical-to-expansive account of “Words Fail!”) were undermined elsewhere by heavy-handed phrasing, overplayed dynamic shifts, and blurry pedaling. Pleasing effects, like the two-note birdcall Zivian sounded in “Unutterable Anguish,” recurred without gaining interpretive nuance or emotional resonance.

Maybe, with The Rite of Spring on everyone’s mind, On an Overgrown Path was bound to be overshadowed.

Known now as a riotously received milestone in ballet history, Stravinsky’s masterwork was first published in a four-hand piano arrangement (doable on either one or two instruments). In remarks from the stage, Zivian described the pulsing, rhythmic, and ritualistic imprint the piece makes. He also admitted to a bit of editing, having added some measures the horns play in the ballet score to this version.

Eric Zivian

Seated side by side, with Vardanega in the treble and Zivian in the bass, the two pianists filled The Rite with pensive musing (in that opening bassoon figure), amply voiced harmonies, furies of concussive chords, and a sense of rhythmic chaos that can only come from practiced command of the score. With a hand from one player crossing over (or under) the other’s, the control and choreography were impressive.

Part 1 of the two-part work, “The Adoration of the Earth,” was especially choice, with its exultant, raw drive and chiaroscuro dynamics. Vardanega sculpted some seductively phrased contours. Part 2, “The Sacrifice,” got off to an uncertain start and never fully delivered. The wildness often went missing. A few glitches with the iPad score caused two brief interruptions.

The technical demons felt oddly apt. The Rite of Spring, one way or another, is a dangerous beast.