Two Americans, a French Canadian and an Israeli make up the Vermeer Quartet, whose concert last night at the Terrace Theater canvassed German, English and Czech (by way of Spillville, Iowa) sources. This 18-year-old group balances experience with exuberance, communicating in ways that only such a combination affords.

Beethoven's String Quartet, Op. 18, No. 3, at first conveyed a seriousness accentuated by the Vermeer's somewhat wary pace and elongated phrasing. Much of the work's genial spirit was suppressed until a more freewheeling attitude surfaced in the finale.

Quartets by Dvora'k and Britten not only possessed a much more extroverted character, but also gave the players multiple opportunities to demonstrate their strengths. They transplanted the Bohemian sentiments of Dvora'k's "American" Quartet, composed in the Midwest in about two weeks' time, by vigorously attacking his folklike melodies.

The Britten Second String Quartet allocated three cadenzas, which cellist Marc Johnson, violist Richard Young and first violinist Shmuel Ashkenasi each used to best advantage. Ashkenasi and violinist Pierre Menard's unison passagework in the "Chacony" was exceptional.

For an encore, the Vermeer Quartet returned to familiar territory, serving up the second movement of Jana'cek's "Intimate Pages" Quartet, a glorified love letter delivered by strings.