The latest Bach-Handel Tricentennial Celebration began a four-night stand last night with Christopher Hogwood and the National Symphony Orchestra at Wolf Trap. Describing the differences between the two composers in his witty prefatory remarks, Hogwood explained that Bach "constructed," while Handel "dramatized" music. Then, as if to counterbalance these observations, he conducted extra-spirited readings of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 1 and 3, and gave Handel's "Water Music" Suites and Concerto Grosso in D Major a more measured pacing than is often encountered.

The Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 in F Major performed was the original version, not Bach's later reworking, which has a more expansive third movement. As an ensemble, the strings produced a generous tone, with special clarity in the inner voices. Reduced to 11 players for the Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major, a mini-symphony of three separate string groups (plus double bass and harpsichord) seized the allegro tempos, handily passing along the melodies.

Handel's Concerto Grosso in D, with its "3 1/2" soloists (the half being the harpsichord, according to Hogwood) and "appropriated" themes, was both graceful and effervescent.

Hogwood received an assist from Mother Nature during the "Water Music" Suites in F and D Major when a sudden cloudburst sent the lawn patrons scurrying for seats under cover. "It had the right effect," he quipped. So did the performance.