The San Francisco Symphony's rapidly rising status among the country's major orchestras is partially due to its unique sense of its own sonority and of its ability to mold that sonority to the demands of a particular work. For its program Saturday evening in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, three distinctly different orchestral sounds were heard, each perfectly appropriate to the music at hand and all contributing to the concert's great success.

The opening Haydn Symphony No. 98 displayed a consistent elegance and warmth of sound that brought balance to the work's somewhat rambling nature. Conductor Edo de Waart and his players simply created a crisp, clear orchestral fabric and allowed Haydn to speak for himself.

Alicia de Larrocha joined the orchestra to close the concert with Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto, proving once again that an intelligent and sensitive performer can dig beneath the fire and sentimentality of this work to reveal its abundant craft. Her beautifully phrased and articulate playing was perfectly matched by the conductor and orchestra in a performance as good as one is ever likely to hear.

Composer Tobias Picker was present for the Washington premiere of his 1982 Symphony, a dramatic work with a sense of logic that permeates the variety of its sonorities and developmental techniques. Picker's imaginative use of familiar idioms, as well as the orchestra's superlative performance, elicited the audience's warm enthusiasm.