When Edward Macdowell joined the music scene toward the end of the 19th century there was hope that the Great American Composer had finally appeared. Though Macdowell proved a lesser figure, a program of his music at the National Gallery last night by pianist Charles Fierro suggests that the time may have come for a reevaluation.

Sentiment is certainly in the air -- witness the show of American luminists downstairs at the National Gallery. There are, as a matter of fact, some interesting parallels between the paintings and Macdowell's music. At their best both are still minor statements, marked by a naivete and expressive softness that teeters on the edge of sentimentality. Fierro even included a Macdowell iceberg in his program, a piece entitled "From a Wandering Iceberg," echoing the famous luminist iceberg painting.

Any active revival of Macdowell's music should include the stipulation that the piantists possess a style of refinement, agility and clarity similar to Fierro's. Though much of the music had an appealing freshness and simplicity, there were numerous passages which only the conviction and control of Fierro's playing could rescue.

Particulary in the one larger work, Macdowell's fourth sonata, the simple material could not always support the demands made upon it. Whenever Macdowell veered toward the pompous or trivial, Fierro kept the music on course with the restraint and dignity of his approach. Many of the shorter pieces were delightful, full of a distinctly American vitality which Fierro projected with fluid grace.