As expanded for chamber orchestra, Shostakovich's String Quartet No. 8 is a big, brooding work, brimming with Russian irony. Last night, the National Gallery Orchestra gave it an alternately muscular and musing performance that captured its bulk and beauty.

With Richard Bales conducting in the gallery's East Garden Court, it was the truly grand finale of an all-string program spanning Heseltine's neo-renaissance "Capriol" Suite, Handel's Concerto grosso in A minor, Op. 6, No. 4, Hindemith's Five Pieces, Op. 44, No. 4, and Vaughan Williams' Five Variants of "Dives and Lazarus."

Giving weight to each phrase and choosing aptly expansive tempi in the five-movement work, Bales won from his players a haunting and dynamically subtle reading in the opening largo, a tensely agitated allegro molto and allegretto, and rich density in the last two largos--unhampered by the rare lapse in attack and intonation. Cellist Timothy Butler, entrusted with a lyrical solo in the fourth movement, played with special depth and feeling.

The Heseltine and Vaughan Williams got lush though not very colorful readings, while a few details of the Hindemith pieces may have gotten lost in the shuffle; softer playing generally might have resulted in more acoustical clarity. The Handel, with its stately gestures and fugal swells, came off quite well.