Edouard Vuillard, now featured in an exhibit at the National Gallery of Art, cultivated a late-impressionistic style of painting in a long career while several styles of French music came and went. This was neatly demonstrated Monday evening at La Maison Francaise in a program of works for cello and piano by three composers whose lives overlapped Vuillard's (1868-1940): conservative Gabriel Faure, inventive Claude Debussy and irrepressible Francis Poulenc.

French cellist Xavier Phillips and pianist Emmanuel Strosser, playing with technical skill and sensitive coordination, found common elements among the strongly contrasting features in three generations of French music: elegance, lyric grace, subtle imagination and a tendency, occasionally, to imply more than is actually stated.

In Faure's Sonata No. 2, Op. 117 (1921), the composer joyfully explored the similar lyric potentials of the cello and the human voice, while also taking advantage of the fact that the cello does not have to stop and catch its breath. His "Elegie" began with an evocation of tolling bells that merged into a quasi-vocal chorale.

Debussy's 1915 sonata, a study in contrasts and subtle color gradations, was played with a fine sense of dialogue and a subtlety that did not undermine its essential energy. Poulenc's 1948 sonata had a second movement whose tranquil depths contrasted effectively with the playfulness of other movements.

-- Joseph McLellan