In "A Russian Impressionist: Leonid Pasternak, 1890-1945," now at the Meridian House, it is the drawings that stand out. Pasternak was never without his sketchbook, as, in the manner of French impressionists, he sought out humble household scenes. The drawings are lovingly done, though never sentimental, unlike the sometimes clumsy finished oil paintings on display. There is a sense here of harmonious, bourgeois life, from a man probably more famous as the father of author Boris Pasternak. And it's the first time the Pasternak collections, brought here by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, have been seen in the United States.

CLASSICAL MUSIC

It's one thing to listen to other people singing the "Hallelujah" chorus; it is something quite different and arguably better to join 2,500 kindred souls in belting it out yourself. That opportunity will present itself in the Kennedy Center's annual "Messiah" sing-along, with the Paul Hill Chorale accompanying the audience, Wednesday night in the Concert Hall. Other choral music this week will include the Washington Cathedral Choir, this afternoon at the Cathedral; the IMF Choral Society singing Bach's "Magnificat" this afternoon in the Grand Foyer of the Kennedy Center; the University of Maryland, Baltimore County Camerata, tonight at the National Gallery.

The Washington Opera will introduce its second production this week, Gilbert and Sullivan's "Ruddigore," to alternate with "L'Amico Fritz" in the Eisenhower Theater beginning tomorrow night.

Alexander Schneider's New York String Orchestra, a student group assembled during the holidays each year, will perform in the Kennedy Center Saturday night. Other noteworthy musical events will include: an unusual Christmas program by the Arlington Symphony Orchestra, today in the Kenmore Auditorium; violinist Jenifer Gordon, cellist Rachel Young and pianist Jenifer Hayghe, tomorrow night at Dumbarton Methodist Church; vocal music of Cornelius, Reger and others at 1 p.m. Wednesday in the IMF. Visitors' Center.

DANCE

The Washington Ballet continues its annual performances of "The Nutcracker," staged by Mary Day and Martin Buckner, at Lisner Auditorium today through Dec. 31.

The Joffrey Ballet presents a second and final week of its new production of "The Nutcracker," conceived and directed by Robert Joffrey, at the Kennedy Center Opera House.

FILM

"The Dead," the late John Huston's film of the James Joyce short story, has a mellifluous simplicity. The images flow so easily and filmmaking is so self-effacing, so direct and economical, that you don't expect it to affect you as powerfully as it does. But Huston's approach as a director here is so assured that it verges on the serene. And the movie's musicality enfolds you, pulls you into its world, and into the rhythms of its period. The narrative, which traces the course of a single evening in January of 1904 at a party celebrating the Feast of the Epiphany, in the home of the sisters Kate and Julia Morkan and their younger niece Mary Jane, is told as naturally as if it were being recited from memory; you feel you can almost hear the rhythms of Huston's strong, whiskey-and-cigarettes voice under the visuals. But the rhythms, the music, are a combination of Huston and Joyce, and it's the kind of synthesis of story and storyteller that make you glory, not simply in the achievements of this one work, however great, but in the possibilities of the medium itself. What we see in Huston's direction of "The Dead" is an artist working out of the core of his talent, cleanly and without hesitation or uncertainty, and bringing to bear the accumulated experience of a long career. Bunåuel had it, and so did Renoir, and Huston's work here is on a par with theirs. And, as a last offering, it couldn't be more perfect. "The Dead" is sonorous, pleasurable, and deeply, humanely funny -- a work of great feeling and beauty.

THEATER

Nobody knows theater people like theater people, and the late Moss Hart probably knew them better than most. "Light Up the Sky" (at Arena Stage), his 1948 comedy about a rocky pre-Broadway tryout in Boston, is a maliciously gleeful, abundantly entertaining expose' of the theatrical temperament. Shrewdly staged by James Nicola and acted with sidesplitting accuracy by the Arena cast, the evening does just what Hart's autocratic producer wants to do: It thrusts "a roman candle in the tired face of show business." This is one for the holidays.