American pianist Murray Perahia ended his recital Saturday at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall with an altogether remarkable version of Schumann's lengthy, passionate, autobiographical C-major Fantasy.

This is music of Schumann's twenties, written for his wife-to-be, the great pianist Clara Wieck, during the period when her father had banished Schumann from her presence, so opposed was he to their prospective marriage. It was Romance in every sense of the word, and one of an intensity indelibly recorded in the Fantasy and other works of the period.

Along with the demands such passion places on the performer--and the considerable technical hurdles--the Fantasy is riddled with the most sudden switches of metrics and tone, already a precursor of the manic-depression that would eventually wreck the composer. These challenges make it notoriously difficult for a pianist to maintain a consistent musical line over the three movements--with the result that the music's urgency is often unintentionally made to lag.

Perahia's playing balanced all the difficulties with amazing concentration and subtlety of tone. For once, the fantasy was made to build with a real sense of inevitability. The opening love music to Clara was devout. The bracing march fairly burst with energy. And the concluding reverie reached a poignant catharsis in its gradual pianissimo return to C major.

Perahia carried off the last few minutes of the work so unforgettably that it seemed a shame that the cheering audience finally drove him into breaking that mood to play an encore. It was a lovely version of a Chopin impromptu, but it was the wrong thing after the Schumann.

Earlier, Beethoven and Schubert were beautifully played, and if they didn't quite meet the perfection of the Schumann, that's no serious complaint.

In fact, there were moments in the four large-scale Schubert impromptus, Op. 142, that came awfully close to that level. A special example was the ethereal high treble playing in the B-flat impromptu. Perahia, who is 35, gets a pearly sound out of the keys at a range that recalls Rubinstein and that few of his contemporaries could even approach.

The Beethoven sonata was the early D Major, Op. 10, No. 3. Its largo was one of Beethoven's first adventures into tragic terrain. Perahia made it plaintive and mournful.