Fresh from his gold-medal win at the prestigious Van Cliburn International Piano Competition this summer, Alexander Kobrin gave a captivating and poetic Washington debut recital Saturday afternoon at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater.

The 25-year-old pianist commanded the keyboard with such songful purpose that not a single phrase escaped his fingers without expression and thoughtfulness. He played with a fluid elegance, rippling through passages in Haydn's Sonatas in F, Hob. XVI/29, and E Minor, Hob. XVI/34, with a striking clarity of notes.

Kobrin took a pensive approach to Schumann's "Kinderszenen," Op. 15. Its 13 scenes unfolded cohesively with a maturity and depth often elusive in performances by young musicians.

Nothing could trip up this Russian pianist's monstrous technique -- not even Rachmaninoff, to whom Kobrin devoted his second half. Under his hands, the composer's "Etudes-Tableaux," Op. 33, and "Variations on a Theme by Corelli," Op. 42, looked far too easy, yet sounded extensively musical.

Capitalizing on the Steinway's full sonorities, Kobrin attained a richer palette of colors and textures. He frolicked at the keys' release points, producing snowflakes of sound with unusual tonal warmth. Just as effortlessly, he generated the bright pealing of bells. Toward the ends of both works, Kobrin sustained an almost unbearably deafening roar.

But even that had a purpose -- to make his final statements of sighing calm all the more breathtaking.

-- Grace Jean