The clothes were a blueprint. Violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja took the stage for her Kennedy Center recital with cellist Jay Campbell in what has become a favored outfit: a deconstructed version of concert-standard white tie and tails, seemingly torn from the tailor’s form mid-alteration. The recital itself followed suit. Kopatchinskaja, a buoyant iconoclast, and Campbell, a member of the equally undaunted JACK Quartet, subverted classical conventions with wry slant and impatient assurance.

The program had medieval and Renaissance works setting the table for early-modern to postmodern music. An anonymous, fastidiously keening 11th-century “Alleluia” led into a pair of 2008 “Duos” by Jörg Widmann, bits of waltz and Baroque figuration peeking through a curtain of dissonance. A 14th-century ballade by Guillaume de Machaut set up György Ligeti’s hazy, briery “Hommage à Hilding Rosenberg,” from 1982. The main pillars were Maurice Ravel’s pungent 1920-22 Sonata and Zoltan Kodaly’s expansive, primeval Op. 7 Duo, from 1914. Eighteenth- and 19th-century repertoire, the gravitational well of the classical industry, was almost entirely bypassed. (The exception was an encore, a pizzicato arrangement of a C.P.E. Bach keyboard “Presto” (H. 230) that tiptoed like a bemused poltergeist.)

The styles varied, but the approach was uniform. If music is a language, Kopatchinskaja’s and Campbell’s playing was all adverbs, all underscored. Every detail, every mood was highlighted and amplified. Fast music was bruisingly vigorous and slow music breathlessly still. Accents were slashed; soft passages courted inaudibility. Their technique and focus were terrific, and in works predicated on intensity and contrast — Widmann’s fractured crosstalk, say, or Iannis Xenakis’s vehemently folkloric “Dhipli Zyia” — the results were electrifying. But the broader arcs of Ravel and Kodaly and a “Fantasia” of Orlando Gibbons were obscured, the narrative thread sacrificed to heady, moment-to-moment immediacy.

This, one suspects, was part of the point. Classical music’s emphasis on form and architecture can feel like an assertion of objectivity and timelessness, encouraging listeners to regard the music as a retreat from a troubled world. Kopatchinskaja and Campbell seemed determined to forestall and undercut such escapism. Their constantly refreshed attention on each passing instant was a reminder that, no matter the age of the score, the work of its realization is always in the here and now. If changes need to be made, the performance implied, then there’s no time like the present.