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Ives Quartet remains a work in progress

The Slee Beethoven String Quartet Cycle is a model of consistency.

Each of the six programs in the cycle is the same, year after year. The only things that change are the interpretations of the various quartets.

This year found the final program in the hands of the Ives String Quartet, a group in transition.

First violinist Bettina Mussumeli and violist Jodi Levitz have been with the group for a fairly brief time -- a little more than a year in Mussumeli's case and a bit less than a year for Levitz -- while second violinist Susan Freier and cellist Stephen Harrison were members of the Stanford String Quartet, an earlier edition of the current group.

All their resumes are pretty decent, but, based solely on the performance of the three Beethoven quartets heard at Friday evening's concert, this a group still searching for the distinctive approach to differentiate itself from other string quartets.

If the group uses the same method it took for the Allegro from the Quartet in E minor (op. 59, no. 2), unveiling a warm, smooth approach laid over a taut but not rigid attitude toward rhythm, then the Ives String Quartet will be well worth hearing again.

During much of the evening, however, intonation, especially from the first violinist, appeared a goal to be achieved, not a promise kept.

In the third movement from Beethoven's op. 135 quartet in F major, all the musicians entered gradually at the composer's behest, for a lovely, understated moment.

This eventually gave way to a series of passages where Mussumeli didn't quite hit every note square on the head.

It wasn't really all that frequent, but it happened often enough to take away the interpretive impetus from the music.

It is difficult to adequately judge a group based upon one performance, and it is more than likely an aberration in this instance.

Folks certainly have the opportunity to check this group in concert one other time since it will be performing again at 3 p.m. Sunday in Lippes Concert Hall.

On the program are string quartets by Charles Ives and Quincy Porter, in addition to the lovely Clarinet Quintet (op. 115) by Johannes Brahms with the supremely talented Jean Kopperud playing the clarinet.

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