Generally the better the pianist, the less one is drawn to the mechanics of the piano playing and the more one is drawn to the music itself. In Rudolf Serkin's case, however, the pianism is inseparable from the musicianship. His art is of a piece and it would be unthinkable to consider the music he makes without focusing on how he makes it.
For his Kennedy Center recital last night, he concentrated on the 19th-century giants, Beethoven, Brahms and Schubert. In each case he moved from the literal to the poetic, establishing, first, the integrity of unusual rhythmic accuracy, the reference point of modest, well-balanced dynamics, and textural clarity. With the development of the music, he allowed himself a little flexibility, some stretching of the rhythmic phrase, the concentration on a particular inner voice and the molding of textures for coloristic effects. But all of this happened only when it mattered, and then it mattered a great deal.
His technical handling of Beethoven's "Pathetique" was much more matter-of-fact than his treatment of the far more complicated E-Major Sonata, Opus 109. The four pieces of the Brahms Opus 119 set had a deceptive simplicity, and the concluding "Wanderer Fantasy" by Schubert was both resolute and lyrical.
It was the sort of performance that aspiring musicians ought to come and take notes at.