That distinguished mezzo-soprano, Claudine Carlson, dedicated her program at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater last night to that suave, ironic, elusive art form -- the chanson.

Her program ranged from "Histoires naturelles," Ravel's enormously sophisticated setting of five poems about birds to the plaintive lyric love songs of Charles Trenet -- with some wonderful Poulenc chansons combining the strengths of both Ravel and Trenet.

Carlson sings this music as if she were born to it. Her mezzo voice is not a very large one, but it is wonderfully malleable. Those low notes are just as true as the rest of her range. It reminds one of Dame Janet Baker, lovely but unostentatious.

She is a master at coloring her voice. It can be resonant and radiant, as in Poulenc's ravishing little waltz "Les Chemins de l'Amour" ("The Paths of Love"). It can also be dry, as in that little "No" dropped into Debussy's "Colloque Sentimental." It can also become dark, as in the line (in translation) "That can be seen yonder shining through the branches" from Satie's "La Statue de Bronze."

Carlson also reminds one of Baker in the warmth and grace of her rapport with the audience. She has a winning smile that can do much to sell a song. Her diction is superb.

French art songs are particularly full of wit, and nowhere more so than in those Ravel bird songs -- where it is as much in the piano as in the vocal line. Robert Hunter's playing was consistently fine throughout the evening, but especially so in the grace note-packed "Le Grillon" ("The Cricket").

There were also three songs by Faure', two by Hahn and one by Paladilhe.

It was an especially good idea to end the program with Trenet. American singers should follow the example, and include more Porter and Rodgers and Bernstein in their recital programs.