The rain failed to dampen spirits for a standing-room-only audience at the National Gallery Orchestra concert yesterday evening celebrating J.S. Bach's and George Frideric Handel's tricentennial at the National Gallery's East Garden Court.

The concert began with a vibrant performance of Bach's Suite No. 3 in D major. The violins were lustrous throughout, balancing well with the rich bass and crisp brasses that filled the cavernous hall. The mesmerizing second movement, popularly called the "Air on the G String," is among the most haunting melodies Bach wrote. Last night it was achingly beautiful, sensual in a way that suggested Pachelbel's Canon, almost rich enough to be breathed as well as heard.

Handel's "Water Music" suites have been a hit since their premiere performance on the river Thames. The orchestra, conducted by Richard Bales, proved that familiarity need not breed contempt even in this year of Baroque.

From the opening overture, which was taken at a deliberate tempo, to the last bar, the old score was brought to life with sensitive attention to dynamic range, clear phrasing and a smoothly balanced interplay of parts. Intonation problems were so rare, and so microscopic, as to be virtually nonexistent. The horns, which could have been muddled in the large court, glowed. Brasses never overpowered the strings. The oboe was delightfully expressive, gliding over the strings in the "Adagio e staccato" section, and spinning lightly through Handel's spiraling Baroque lines in several parts.