Until yesterday, Swiss soprano Edith Mathis was known to Washington audiences only as a delightful Susanna in the Paris Opera's visiting "Marriage of Figaro" and as the soprano in Antal Dorati's "Messiah" last fall at the Washington Cathedral.

With last night's recital at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater it became clear that she is a lieder singer of enormous distinction. Again and again in the program of Schubert, Brahms, Wolf and Clara Schumann she showed the preoccupation with intimate expression that separates a mere singer from a lieder singer.

The elements that convert lieder into miniature dramas include precise articulation, subtly graded dynamics, stage presence, impeccable diction and -- most of all -- the ability to color the voice to emphasize the drama of the texts.

Mathis had it all. Fine as her Susanna was when the Paris Opera came for the Bicentennial, Mathis' voice goes considerably beyond the range of that role. In fact, at this recital the most consistently impressive dimension came when she descended to low notes without any loss of focus, and then resonated it freely. The way she used the low voice recalled Schwarzkopf. Mathis' voice is not that big, but it has that kind of control. The top may not be of that quality, but it is impressive.

The evening's novelty was Schumann's Five Songs from "Jucunde," which, not surprisingly, recalled the soaring phrases of her husband's ecstatic lieder -- especially in her second song, about "the joy of singing." Since Clara Schumann was one of the most accomplished pianists on the 19th century, it also came as no surprise that the piano part was full of riches. Samuel Sanders played it passionately (he was in memorable form throughout the evening).