In the crowded field of local choirs the 17-year-old James Chorale has emerged as one of the few that can be counted on to deliver consistently excellent performances despite its semipro status. Last summer I heard the 35-voice chorale--whose name is a mystery even to its veterans--at the Woodstock Mozart Festival and was struck by the ardor and grace of its singing. Both qualities ought to come in handy in this weekend's characteristically thoughtful program. Titled "Lieder and Chansons," it combines and contrasts the woefully neglected 19th-century German and French traditions of the art song. Serendipitously, the performances offer a chance to rekindle the old debate between these rival national sensibilities. Representing the Austro-Germanic camp are big guns of the lied Schubert (Lebenslust), Schumann (selections from Spanish Songs), Brahms (three selections from Six Lieder and Romances), and the high-strung genius Hugo Wolf (Spring Chorus). The Gallic forces are represented by rarities from two impressionist masters, Debussy (Three Songs) and Faure (Madrigals). This could be a lopsided contest, even though longtime choirmaster James Rogner and his charges are sure to avoid partiality. Among the soloists are soprano Elaine Pierce and bass Matt Greenberg. Lenore Lams accompanies on the piano. Saturday, 7:30 PM, Second Presbyterian Church, 1936 S. Michigan; Sunday, 4 PM, St. Edmund Church, 188 S. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park; 561-2424.