The Handel Festival Orchestra, prevailing local specialists in the music of the Baroque titan, made a departure of sorts last night at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. There was only one Handel work performed, and it was a substantial one, the Concerto Grosso No. 3 in E Minor, Op. 6. "Hardly Handel" might have been the theme, but it was the variations -- specifically those outside of the period -- that provided the most interest.

Mozart's Concerto for Bassoon in B-flat, K. 191, found soloist Linda Harwell in top form, cutting a dutiful path through the thickets of phrases in the opening allegro's cadenza, while applying a light, lyrical touch to the middle movement. The orchestra provided sympathetic support, just as it had in the dramatic contours of Handel's Concerto Grosso and Albinoni's Concerto a Cinque No. 9, an innocuous work salvaged only by the oboists, Phyllis Lanini and Kathleen Golding.

American composer Burrill Phillips' Concert Piece for Bassoon and Strings brought on a prevailing western wind, with strong melodies bearing resemblance, coincidentally enough, to Copland. The mood quickly changed with Haydn's Symphony No. 71 in B-flat. Conductor Stephen Simon kept the ensemble lithe, receptive to the abrupt shifts. Drama, surprise and droll humor abound, and the Handel Festival Orchestra's attentive play was almost a reflex action to Haydn's change in temperament.