Soviet violinist Gidon Kremer, ranked among the world's top performers, has decided to defect from the Soviet Union to West Germany, where his parents now live, according to a concert agent who spoke yesterday to the Reuters news service.

Kremer, 33, and his wife Elena, a 22-year-old pianist, applied for West German citizenship in Heidelberg, Germany, a city not far from Salzburg, Austria, where Kremer had been performing at the Salzburg Festival, according to concert agent Werner Lutz.

Kremer's U.S. representative, Sheldon Gold of International Creative Management in New York, said yesterday, "This is the first I've heard of it. I'm a little nonplussed at the moment."

Kremer, a student of the late violinist David Oistrakh, was described by Douglas Sheldon of Columbia Artists Management (a rival management company) as "not only very important but also one of the world's greatest violinists." Kremer has recorded with such major Western conductors as Leonard Bernstein and Herbert von Karajan, conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.

Martin Feinstein, president of the National Symphony Orchestra, said yesterday afternoon, "There have been rumors about him defecting for a couple of years. I heard them traveling through Europe. So it doesn't come as a big surprise."

Kremer has been traveling extensively throughout Western Europe and the United States, according to Gold. At the beginning of July, Kremer spent 2 1/2 weeks touring in Philadelphia, Detroit, Hollywood and Aspen for the Aspen Music Festival. He and his wife, after performing together at the Hollywood Bowl, were scheduled to go to Finland for vacation.

Kremer is due back in the United States and Canada for tours from the beginning of October through November, said Gold. He is not scheduled to come to Washington.

The young Soviet violinist is apparently yet another artist to be added to a list of Soviet artists who have defected in recent years. Several of them -- including ballet star Alexander Godunov -- did so in close succession last year.

According to Lutz (as told to Reuters), Kremer and his wife applied last week for permission to have dual residence in the Soviet Union and Heidelberg. But Soviet authorities denied the request, according to Lutz, and ordered the couple to return to the Soviet Union.

Kremer apparently enjoyed much touring freedom. "He had been given kind of a free rein to tour the West," said Gold. "He was permitted greater access to the West than a number of other artists going out."

Kremer also spent a good deal of time in West Germany -- at least some of each month, according to Gold.

Kremer also has recorded with Bernstein and Von Karajan.