Last night in the Fine Arts Center of Towson State University, the Towson Chamber Players presented what was essentially a French song recital. Song cycles by Ravel ("Chansons Madecasses") and Poulenc ("Banalites") were the genuine item in that they were written by Frenchmen, but even "Four Fragments" -- a setting of Chaucer in the original Middle English -- by the American Lester Trimble (who studied with Honegger, Milhaud and Boulanger in this country as well as in Paris) had an authentically French sense of color and economy.
Baritone Gerald Philips, who sang the Poulenc group, did not have a particularly fresh-sounding voice, but he had a great deal of charm, real powers of characterization, an ability to communicate and a sympathetic collaborator in Arno Drucker -- all of which permitted him to make a compelling experience of these affecting songs. Drucker also partnered his wife, soprano Ruth Drucker, in what was only a slightly less powerful (because the music is not quite as distinguished) rendition of Trimble's Chaucer cycle. The instrumentation -- flute (Sara Landgren), clarinet (Edward Palanker) and piano -- deliciously colors and supports the composer's intelligent settings.
Even more intelligent and delicious are Ravel's sensuous "Chansons Madecasses," which mezzo soprano Charlotte Anderson sang with flutist Landgren, cellist Cecylia Barczyk and pianist Cyrus Ginwala. Anderson has a lovely voice and one would like to hear her sing these songs again in a few years when she has matured enough to capture more of the passion and the exotic atmosphere of the music.
The program also included Poulenc's Sonata for clarinet (Alexander Sidorowicz) and bassoon (Gene Griswold) in a performance that did not completely capture its wit and William Kleinsaser's "One Wind" for solo flute. The latter, which demands that the performer occasionally sing as well as play, received an evocative, beautifully polished performance from flutist Landgren.