Pianist Patrick Rucker, accompanied by narrator Albert Fuller, offered a different twist to performing the music of Franz Liszt yesterday at the National Presbyterian Church. With a vase of red roses and a candle as props, the pair gave the premiere of a "melologue" (from the Greek words for music and speech) focusing on the composer's later years in Rome.

Certainly, Liszt's tenure in the Italian city where he eventually took holy orders makes for fascinating study, and much of the music produced in that phase of his life represents the composer at his most innovative. The performance leaned heavily on the narration, which takes the voice of an anonymous diarist, a character on the fringe of Liszt's circle of Roman acquaintances. Although the text was often interesting, it may have lost all but the Liszt devotees in the audience.

Apart from being weakened by the intrusive speech (especially during the transcription of "Via Crucis," a forward-looking, harmonically daring work depicting the 14 Stations of the Cross), Rucker's playing was firm and muscular. In "Sunt lacrymae rerum," from Book 3 of "Anne'es de pe`lerinage," and "Inno del Papa," Rucker appeared secure technically, but there might have been room for more depth of color and phrasing. In any case, these can't have been the best circumstances in which to play -- or hear -- some of Liszt's most complex and least familiar music.