The esprit and style that radiated from the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra Friday night in a program of Haydn and Bach at the Kennedy Center makes it all the more vexing that this appears to be the orchestra's last series of summer concerts in Washington.

The problem is at the box office. Friday's concert -- despite grand conducting by Stanislaw Skrowaczewski -- was only about half full. Saturday night's concert of three of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos was packed.

One of this year's difficulties was the absence from the tour of Music Director Pinchas Zukerman, who never fails to draw a crowd, whatever one may think of him as a conductor, as against the consummate violinist that he is.

Violinist Young Uck Kim played gracefully in the Bach A Minor Concerto (BWV 1041), as well as with oboist Kathryn E. Greenbank in the C Minor Concerto (BWV 1060).

It's really too bad, though, that the suspension of the concerts happened now, because Skrowaczewski might be blamed for it. He may lack charisma, but his interpretation of Haydn's 88th Symphony, which concluded the program, was on a level with the historic recording by the Berlin Philharmonic under Wilhelm Furtwa ngler.

You just don't have any business conducting this enchanting, playful work unless you can put yourself in the right mood -- because that obviously was Haydn's mood when he wrote it. It is an utter joy, yet there is nothing trivial about it. Every movement catches you irretrievably when played the way it was Friday night.

A headstrong conductor -- a Toscanini or a Solti, for instance -- would be wrong for this symphony. It requires relaxation -- rubato in transitions and gentle harmonic and rhythmic pointing -- without sacrifice of control.

On Friday night the audience was so delighted that it finally goaded Skrowaczewski into replaying the third movement as an encore.

The orchestra was so impressed at the end that it twice refused to stand when the conductor asked it to do so, applauding him instead.

What a loss the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra is going to be.