In an appearance at the University of Maryland Saturday night the Guarneri String Quartet applied its special blend of strength and lyricism to an appealing program of early Beethoven. late Bartok and rare Arensky. All three works benefited from the inherent classicism of the ensemble's style, acquiring a balance not always obvious in the score.

Beethoven's Quartet, Op. 18, No. 1 -- actually second in composition though published as the first quartet -- received an exceptionally dynamic interpretation. Deftly exploiting the work's contrasts, the Guarneri underlined the tension between the grace of Beethoven's material and the intensity with which it is probed. Bartok's Fifth Quartet likewise glowed under the Guarneri's carefully modulated approach, its rugged contours taking on at times a surprising elegance. The resultant loss in vividness, compensated by ample expressive insights, proved a problem only in the final movement.

The evening ended with the second of two quartets written by the late 19th-century Russian composer Anton Arensky, a composer of -- as Grove's Dictionary aptly notes -- distinctive, if not original, music. The Guarneri caught the work's easy melodic flow with a delicate spaciousness appropriate to the music's slender substance, though the final movement proved too slim for redemption, even by these four talented performers