"Are we supposed to play the Ravel for you? I didn't see the program," asked Arnold Steinhardt, the Guarneri Quartet's first violinist, of the audience last Saturday evening after intermission. A curious question, one I had never heard queried by any prior performers in my history of concert going. Was Steinhardt "playing" the audience or being truthful? It was obvious that the veteran group (retiring this season) had Ravel's only string quartet well under their fingers. They've played it hundreds of times and easily proved no special rehearsal was needed. In any case, that question defined a bellwether for their evening's program. Beginning with Haydn's Quartet in G Minor, Op. 74 No. 3 ("Rider") and continuing with Zoltán Kodály's Quartet No. 2, Op. 10, all three works seemed to run on automatic, the players there only to supply a corporeal presence. Still, the Guarneri has been in the top tier of quartet groups since their founding in 1964. And the issues, however slight, to be taken with their playing remain the same ones appearing on their early vinyl recordings: Their rapid playing in fast movements includes rough, mismatched vibrati and creates a somewhat ragged effect, even though they are essentially playing together. By contrast, their long, singing lines in slow movements are the epitome of beautiful sounds and perfect ensemble work. This showed itself in those of both the Ravel and the Haydn. Yet the Guarneri was surpassed in last year's Ensemble finale ... by the Artemis Quartet.