The world premiere of an ingenious and exciting string quartet highlighted the seventh of 10 programs of chamber music being played at this year's Spoleto Festival in Charleston.

The quartet, titled "Nine Waltzes," by Fred Lerdahl has been played several times at the festival by Dong Suk Kang, violin; Scott Nickrenz, viola; Colin Carr, cello; and James Van Demark, double bass.

The unbroken succession of nine waltzes is a kind of homage to the spirit of the waltzes of Chopin and Ravel. Melodic, harmonic and rhythmic echoes from both composers are skillfully embedded in music of utmost virtuosity allotted to each of the unusual foursome. Lerdahl, in his late 30s and a member of the faculty of Columbia University, elected to write for these four instruments, which were a popular combination in 19th-century salons.

His music, however, has nothing of what is associated with the term "salon music." Unswervingly in 3/4 time, the permutations within the framework pay high tribute to Lerdahl's imaginative invention.

The performance was on the same extremely high level that is a hallmark of all the chamber music here, and the audience, openly receptive to the new music, which was commissioned for this festival and dedicated to Nickrenz, greeted the composer with prolonged applause.

The Lerdahl was preceded by a gorgeous performance of Schonberg's "Verklaerte Nacht," played by the Emerson quartet joined by Nickrenz and Carr.

Meanwhile, the Catalonian dance company La Calaca, is proving a greater hit for children than for some of the adults in its audience. It is a puppet and mime show with masks and giant figures that were created by Jon Miro. Staged with striking visual effects and expert puppetry, it relies for long stretches at a time on humor that is largely slapstick and aimed at the belly laugh.

An arresting exception was a scene from the drama "Mori el Merma." It was created in 1978 to express with violent feeling the celebration of the death of Generalissimo Francisco Franco. Even here, however, far more time and motion are used than is best for the desired impression.