Brazilian pianist Caio Pagano's recital at the National Gallery last night was a brilliant exploration of the language of music. He played as a thoroughly modern man, aware of history, searching past and present for meaning.

His program was a capsule record of the last two centuries, rich in relationships and revelations. The opening selection, a late Beethoven sonata, was a reminder that he opened the folldgates to the present by pushing music to expressive extremes. Nothing really new happened until Schoenberg and his tone rows, as his suite of 1925, the first work totally derived from a tone row, recalled.

Berg's first sonata revealed this Schoenberg pupil pointing to the future with his atonal vocabulary, to the past with his romantic outlook. Stockhausen's Klavierstuck 9 recalled the new methods, materials and performance ideas introduced in the postwar period.

Pointing up the synthesis of the present, Pagano gave the Washington premiere of 3 Instantes by the Brazilian composer Willy de Oliveira. It was a lovely work based on lush material inspired by the past treated with the freedom of the present.

Matching a vigorous intellect with equally strong feelings, Pagano was an unfailingly sensitive and sure guide throughout the evening. In his hands the truth -- often forgotten about a Stockhausen or Schoenberg -- seemed obvious. Every composer, no matter how complex his language, had something to communicate.