Romanian pianist George Foca-Rodi's role in last night's tribute to Ambassador Philip Habib at the Corcoran Gallery was that of an entre'acte in an evening otherwise devoted to politics, diplomacy and tributes to the good works of this country's peace-seeking envoy to the Middle East.

Despite the written program's omissions, the late arrivals, and the distinctly unconcertlike atmosphere, this unassuming, immensely gifted musician and composer's performance was a marvel of passion and control. He began with two sonatas by 18th-century composer Baldassare Galuppi, filling the intimate Armand Hammer Auditorium with delicate, bell-like sound. Then, with hardly a pause, he summoned up the plaintive dissonances and tonal clusters of fellow Romanian Georges Enesco's music, which brings to mind both Eastern European folk songs and the aural wash of Debussy. The set (in this instance, the appropriate term) came to a close with a janglingly percussive reading of the last movement of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, replete with the pianist's own cadenza.

After a lengthy intermission, prolonged to accommodate Habib's late arrival, Foca-Rodi returned with a halting, evanescent bouquet of Chopin mazurkas, a nocturne and the E minor Polonaise. His interpretation of Debussy's "The Sunken Cathedral" carried one underwater, to a world of both murkiness and blinding clarity. Each chord melted into the next, much like the verses of an eloquent poem. As for the encore -- the pianist's own composition, dedicated to Hammer and entitled "Russia, Berlin, Almost in Paris" -- well, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger summed up the shimmery, schizophrenic piece as "How Lili Marleen Met Petrouchka." Not a bad critique at that!