Since this is "Irish Week," the Washington premiere of Sir Arthur Sullivan's Symphony in E ("Irish") by the National Gallery Orchestra last evening seemed especially timely.

And, considering that spring is but a week away, the inclusion of Delius' "On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring" appeared more than coincidental. The connecting thread of the program was a nationalistic one, as conductor Richard Bales led the players through selections by composers representative of the English style.

Given the lively acoustics of the East Garden Court, Bales did a masterful job of maintaining orchestral balance. The "Suite From the Royal Water Music" by Handel sparkled in the exchanges between strings and winds, particularly in the familiar theme of the concluding Allegro. Similarly, the orchestra captured all of the programmatic elements in the Delius, as shimmering string sonorities served as a backdrop to the woodwinds' imitative bird calls.

A crisp rendering of Britten's "Soire'es Musicales" set the stage for Sullivan's "Irish" symphony, a youthful work predating his operetta collaborations with Sir William Gilbert. The outer movements contain memorable themes, which the orchestra articulated splendidly. The less weighty Andante and Allegretto--more color than content--exude a loquaciousness and puckish wit, the sort one might associate with an Emerald Isle leprechaun.