The National Chamber Orchestra is only about a quarter the size of a standard symphony orchestra, but in its 19 years under the baton of Music Director Piotr Gajewski, it has successfully ventured into most of the big-orchestra repertoire. Saturday night in Rockville's F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre, the pie{grv}ce de re{acute}sistance was Beethoven's "Pastoral" Symphony in a carefully paced performance that was not only cost-effective in terms of the orchestra's size, but powerful and finely detailed.

A larger body of strings might have provided greater tonal depth, but the small orchestra's transparent sound easily compensated for a slight loss of richness. The woodwind sounds -- birdcalls in one movement, a comic bassoon in another -- stood out in sharp relief from the lighter orchestral texture. Gajewski caught precisely the music's flow in one scene after another: a stroll through the countryside; a gently flowing brook, a peasant dance, a storm, a prayer of thanksgiving.

Taiwanese violinist Cho-Liang Lin soloed in two neatly contrasted works: Dvorak's sweetly melodious, ultra-romantic Romance for Violin and Orchestra, and Witold Lutoslawski's brilliant, neo-baroque Partita for Violin and Orchestra. Lin was equally adept in both styles, playing with mellow tone and exemplary technical control.

The opening number was Beethoven's "Coriolan" Overture, in a performance that crackled, as it should, with dramatic tension.

-- Joseph McLellan