Visions of sea nymphs swirled with readings of Melville and the music of Chopin at La Maison Francaise on Sunday afternoon. The Embassy Series diverged from its usual strict concert routine to present a multi-genre meditation on the nature of water. The liquid playing of the American pianist Kevin Kenner traded the foreground with articulately read, sea-inspired literary excerpts, while paintings of Waterhouse, Monet and Whistler were projected overhead.

The success of this artistic exploration was mostly due to Kenner's delicate sound, one that values subtle nuance over thunderous technique. He found the misty undertones of Claude Debussy's "Jardins sous la pluie" and Maurice Ravel's "Une barque sur l'ocean," yet colors were distinct and the rhythm remained flexible. Even though one sometimes yearned for a little more fire in Chopin's Ballade No. 2, Kenner's cool technique and rich tone paid dividends in more relaxed yet luminous pieces, like Leos Janacek's otherworldly "In the Mists."

Jerome Barry read the excerpts with great conviction, and the works flashing above were undeniably masterful. Still, readings from authors as diverse as Goethe and Langston Hughes disrupted the graceful arc Kenner patiently traced throughout the afternoon.

-- Daniel Ginsberg