In one of its most effective programs to date, the National Symphony String Quartet last night premiered the winning work from the Friday Morning Club's 1979 international composition competition. With "Papillions: String Quartet after Robert Schumann" on the Corcoran program, 32-year-old composer Don Freund thoughtful in approach and imaginative in style.

Described by Freund as "a piece within a piece," the string quartet's two movements follow a loose scenario. In the Prologue the players move from one new idea to another, glorying in the excitement of the present, haunted at the same time by echoes of the music of Schumann. In the second movement, entitled Paraphrase, the players set aside the present to examine Schumann's piano suite, "Paillions," turning his ideas this way and that, like old photographs, viewing them with affection and curiosity. Disillusionment sets in as the players weary of the past. From song he has written to a Sandburg poem, Fruend quotes the melody that goes to the line "The past is a bucket of ashes." There is a fleeting reference to "Papillons" and then the music dissolves in a wisp of sound.

Freund has succeeded in capturing the contemporary composer's dilemma with considerable musical and dramatic skill, making inventive use of his and Schumann's material. The work received a committed performance from the National Symphony String Quartet joined by flutist Toshiko Kohno in the last movement. Pianist Steven Kemper participated in a dramatic reading of Brahms' "F Minor Quintet" earlier in the program.