Cellists may not be the only socially aware musicans, but they seem to bring their concerns with them into the concert hall more often than other musicians do. Casals and Rostropovich spring to mind immediately. And, Tuesday night, just before launching into the third Bach Suite for unaccompanied cello, at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater, French cellist Paul Tortelier pulled a slip of paper out of his pocket and read a short but impassioned plea for nuclear restraint. Citing the fact that, at 67, this was his first Washington appearance, the artist asked, "For the sake of love and beauty, allow me to make a wish for peace." He dedicated the wish to Reagan and Brezhnev, that there be found a "key for peace, not in participating in a nuclear arms race, but in a slow walk to security for all nations."

This off his chest, he dug into the Bach with abandon and a certain erratic brilliance that produced long notes of surpassing beauty but ungainly arpeggios and poor intonation in the higher positions. There was more breadth here than poetry, and more passion than care.

This same unevenness found its way into the Brahms F Major Sonata. Individual notes were lovely, in the first two movements, but too often, moving from one to the next was accomplished with a brutality that clobbered any hint of sensuality. The third movement was another matter, however. Moving with control and consideration, all the potential of Tortelier's splendid bow arm was realized in the production of music of real splendor.

It was in the Brahms, also, that pianist Maria de la Pau, Tortelier's daughter, revealed herself to be a superb artist in her own right.

Tortelier danced pleasantly through the other pieces on the program, a Sonata by Sammartini, and his own D Minor Cello Sonata.