The appearance of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau at the Kennedy Center Saturday night drew worshipful multitudes who insisted on reverent silence through an all-Schumann recital. A few members of the audience attempting to applaud between songs were peremptorily shushed by others not wanting the concentrated atmosphere broken. A polite request alongside the song texts in the program not to turn pages until completion of a number was scrupulously honored.

Were Fischer-Dieskau any less than the high priest of lieder such devotion might seem excessive, but the purity and beauty of his art command honor. At 55 he still looks surprisingly youthful and his manner remains disarmingly unassuming. He takes only the briefest time to collect himself and then suddenly he is there, in the center of the music with just the right color and depth of tone. This easy transformation of song into experience was particularly evident in the more fragile Schumann selections, sometimes little more than sketches, which Fischer-Dieskau effortlessly turned into compelling moments.

All the familiar elements of his style were there -- the clear projection of text, the sharp dramatic instinct, the swift changes of mood, the sure tonal control from the sweet upper register to the rich lower range, the luminous intelligene. Whether a major essay or a slight communication, each song became a revelation. Pianist Joerg Demus' finely articulated accompaniments were a sensitive extension of Fischer-Dieskau's art.