Now 80, Aldo Ciccolini, courteous and austere, looks frailer than he did on his only other appearance at Symphony Hall.
His entrance was greeted with immense applause on Sunday afternoon, and perhaps we all felt we were sharing a little bit of musical history with a pianist whose wisdom and insight are built on over half a century of performing.
The programme had a strong French connection, opening with an all-Chopin first half. Two late Nocturnes drew us into a beautifully coloured sound-world, hanging on every note, each of which was a well-considered event under Ciccolini's interactive, balanced hands on a fabulous Fazioli instrument.
In the B major his recapitulation of the main melody was mandolin-like in the suavity of its trilling, and the way Ciccolini assimilated vocal-style ornamentation into the E major's melodic line was an object-lesson to pianists of all levels.
His account of the B minor Sonata would have been remarkable at any age, with welljudged heroics, fleet and deft passage-work, perfectly weighted chording, and a command of counterpoint which drew attention to Chopin's reverence for Bach. And in the largo Ciccolini sang songs of other worlds.
Ravel's Valses Nobles et Sentimentales drew from Ciccolini a reading in which innocent idealism alternated with loucheness as he captured their gossamer moods, and his resourceful pedalling here ( almost like a third hand) was equally effective in the Four Spanish Pieces by Manuel de Falla, who had studied in Paris in 1907.
Strumming and stamping, sparkling and swirling, this was an astounding display of Mediterranean verve from a pianist who, Neapolitan by birth, has Spain in his blood. And his encore, Debussy's Minstrels, drew all these threads together in an appealing blend of wit and emotion.