It all bolled down to three superb pianists on Saturday at the Tawes Theater.

Of the 50 original entrants in the University of Maryland International Piano Competition, 15 had been selected as semifinalists to perform recitals during this week of the festival and competition. Each of the 15 were to play several works of their choice and a required piece, the Fourth Piano Sonata by John Pozdro.

From these 15, the judges selected James Barbagallo of California, Enrique Graf of Uruguay and Texan William Koehler as finalists, each to perform a concerto with the Baltimore Symphony conducted by Sergiu Comissiona.

At stake (besides the honor) were a $3,000 Maryland Piano Festival prize, a Maryland Arts Council prize of $1,500, a prize of $1,000 donated by the Baldwin Piano and Organ Co., and several smaller awards to be given for special aspects of performance.

Each finalist was already a seasoned performer and competitor. Each already possessed a smooth stage manner and the poise that makes things sound easy. And it goes without saying that each was technically assured. After all that, however, there were the ineffable qualities of music-making that make the difference, and, in this case the judges found these to be strongest in the playing of Graf.

Graf had turned in a marvelously lucid and vital performance of the Ravel G Major Concerto and, in addition, had seemed completely in tune with Comissiona's inclinations.

The Arts Council prize went to Barbagallo for his performance of Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini." And to William Koehler, who played the Tchaikovsky Concerto No. 1, went both the Baldwin prize and the Gisriel Prize for the best performance of the required piece.

The judges during this festival week were James Backas, Frederick Marvin, Ann Koscielny, Alan Kriegsman and Evelyn Swarthout.