Last night's National Symphony concert offered a curious juxtaposition of some of the orchestra's finest playing with some of its worst. Even with Rostropovich on the podium the first half of the program was -- dare one say it? -- boring.

It opened with "Chromatokinesis for Orchestra" by the NSO's composer-in-residence, Andreas Makris, who is also a member of the violin section. Based on a rather awkward, angular theme, the work was well crafted, if not overly inspired, in its development. Much of the more interesting rhythmic transformations of the second section were lost under an excess of sound from the brass and timpani.

Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto followed, beginning with a flat orchestral introduction that set the tone for a routine performance by guest artist Eugene Istomin. The three movements plodded along, all gesture and no meaning, void of power or poetry.Mechanical phrases from the orchestra were answered by gray piano tones. As expected, the audience clapped wildly and cried bravo, presumably because the music was well written and no total breakdown occurred.

All was redeemed in the second half by a performance of Strauss' "Don Quixote" charged with beauty and spirituality. Following Rostropovich's sure direction, soloists John Martin, Richard Parnas and Miran Kojian inspired each other and their colleagues to reach deep within for the truth behind the notes. It was music-making of the most moving kind.