With justification, composers say that repeat performances of their music are often more difficult to get than premieres. In his 35 years of presiding over concerts at the National Gallery, Richard Bales has made the second chance a programming policy. Last night he himself was the beneficiary -- as the Alexandria Quartet gave an expressive reading of his Quartet in D, written in 1944.

Dedicated to Bales' wife, it is an appealing work filled with fresh, flowing melodies. Its gentle lyricism and rhythmic vitality move the quartet easily along to a finish which seems far too soon.

The rest of the program was devoted to an early Beethoven quartet and Brahms' first quartet, two works separated by Beethoven's profound transformation of the form. Awareness of his predecessor contributed to the fact that Brahms was 40 before he completed this quartet, the first he deemed worthy of the tradition.

In both works the Alexandria Quartet revealed a growing sense of ensemble, particularly noticeable in the Brahms. The group also is beginning to loosen up, allowing some mystery and drama to enter its playing. Although its voice is not yet fully shaped, the quartet seems to be moving toward an intimate, thoughtful style.