From the madrigal of the Renaissance to the modern barbershop quartet, the vocal ensemble has been one of the most enjoyed of all musical groups. The New York Vocal Arts Ensemble, a quartet that recently won first prize at a competition in Geneva, attempts to restore this neglected form to its former glory. Under the direction of founder Raymond Beegle, the group presented an excellent recital Saturday night at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. With a program featuring songs composed in Vienna, the singers won the audience over with their precision and solid musicianship.

This type of music can wear thin, but the musicians avoided monotony with quietly beautiful, unaccompanied performances of Schubert's "Die Nacht" and Brahms' haunting "Waldesnacht." Comic relief came with Mozart's "Das Bandel," in which the quartet showed Rossinian timing and facility. Mezzo Wanda Brister and tenor Jeffrey Flemming sang with fervor Schubert's "Licht und Liebe." Although soprano Judith Pannill was somewhat overbearing in the ensembles, she and Flemming turned in a smooth performance of the folk song "Soldier in a Foreign Land," arranged by Beethoven. In Brahms' sumptuous "Going to My Sweetheart," the group's excellent balance and Beegle's wonderfully sensitive accompaniment made a wonderful Valentine gift.