The anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss was fascinated by miniature artworks: Their size allowed them to be “grasped, assessed and apprehended at a glance,” while their obvious handmade qualities invited contemplation of their creators’ choices, transforming the viewer “into an active participant, without even being aware of it,” he wrote. Tuesday’s Kennedy Center recital of four-hand piano repertoire by the English pianist Paul Lewis and his Scottish counterpart Steven Osborne, presented by Washington Performing Arts, invited reflection on Levi-Strauss’s analysis. The program was French (and Russian by way of France) suites of small pieces; the performance was full of transparent, discernible choices.

Lewis and Osborne showed precise touch and perpetual attentiveness — every note actively examined in light of the phrase, every phrase in light of the whole. The program was similarly considered, three works on each half, representing three musical moods: lovely, brash, delicate. The lovely music — Gabriel Fauré’s Op. 56 “Dolly Suite” and Claude Debussy’s “Petite Suite” — was saturated with finesse, phrases and decorations rounded off with unassuming flourish. Lewis took the upper part in both, declaiming melodies with firm but plummy enunciation. (In Fauré’s pieces, composed for his mistress’s daughter, the effect often was that of a distinguished Shakespearean reading Dr. Seuss.) Osborne, manning the lower parts and pedals, conscientiously maintained a burnished clarity of texture.

Francis Poulenc’s Sonata for Four-Hand Piano and Igor Stravinsky’s “Trois pièces faciles” provided measures of impudence: barbed, neoclassical high jinks rendered in bright, primary colors, with the occasional restrained touch. (The last of Stravinsky’s easy pieces, a deadpan “Polka,” dissolved into an exquisite Gallic shrug.) But the implications of miniature art were most apparent in the most gossamer music. Debussy’s “Six Épigraphes Antiques” and Maurice Ravel’s “Ma mère l’Oye” suite, the former gnomic, the latter pastel-lush, were both exercises in discreet, even hermetic understatement. Osborne, taking the upper parts, cultivated a pianistic stage whisper, with Lewis’s pedaling providing a generous halo of resonance. The Ravel aimed for the diaphanous; the Debussy, sometimes, seemed barely there at all.

It created a feeling that one was listening as much to Lewis and Osborne listening to each other as to the music itself. Maybe the audience members weren’t Levi-Strauss’s active participants, but at least they were in the studio, watching the work happen. The pair’s encore, the E-minor “Dumka” from Antonin Dvorak’s Op. 72 Slavonic Dances, was, by contrast, thoroughly extroverted. One could almost sense them punch the clock.