Quam Dilecta
- French Romantic Choral Music
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Quam dilecta, op. 148 (1915) [4:43]
Ave Maria, op. 145 (1914) [3:30]
Ave verum corpus [4:57)
Offertoire (1904) [4:47]
Ave verum corpus [5:52]
Déodat De SÉVÉRAC (1872-1921)
O sacrum convivial [4:00]
Ave verum corpus (1898) [2:57]
Tantum ergo (1920) (2:33]
Salve Regina [2:53]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Tantum ergo (1904) [2:12]
Tantum ergo, op. 65/2 (1894) [2:54]
O salutaris hostia, op. 47/1 [2:52]
Ave Maria, op. 67/2 (1894-95) [2:17]
Salve Regina, op. 67/1 (1894-95) [2:40]
Maria, Mater gratiae, op. 47/2 (1888) [2:13]
Ecce fidelis servus, op. 54 [1:37]
Ave verum corpus, op. 65/1 (1894) [3:14]
Vincent d’INDY (1851-1931)
Ave Regina coelorum, op. 79 (1922) [2:09]
O Domina mea, op. 88 [3:00]
Sancta Maria, succurre miseris, op. 49 [1:39]
Deus Israel conjungat vos, op. 41 (1896) [6:08]
The Choir of Christ’s College, Cambridge/David Rowland
Roxy Summerfield (organ)
rec. 19-20 March 2011 Jesus College Chapel, Cambridge, England
Full Latin texts with English translations

The school of French sacred choral music is where unerring elegance and appealing melodic invention meet pious veneration. Titled Quam dilecta(How lovely) this collection of 21 small-scale Latin pieces for devotional use in the Roman Catholic liturgy certainly fits that description.
This Regent project is sung by the Choir of Christ’s College, Cambridge, founded in 1437. Now a mixed student choir on this recording they number 10 sopranos, 7 altos, 5 tenors and 7 basses. This is their typical size.
In accordance with the liturgical trend of the time many of the scores are written in veneration of the Virgin Mary. It is surprising how many connections there are between the four French composers Camille Saint-Saëns, Vincent d’Indy, Gabriel Fauré and Déodat de Sévérac; all were Paris-based for varying lengths of time.
Saint-Saëns and Fauré are undoubtedly the best known of the four. A prolific composer Saint-Saëns was very active in the field of sacred works. Of his larger scale sacred choral works the most noteworthy are the Messe Solennelle for four solo voices, chorus, orchestra and organ, op. 4 (1855/56), the Oratorio de Noël for soloists, chorus, quartet of strings, harp and organ, op. 12 (1858) and the Requiem Mass for soloists, chorus and orchestra, op. 54 (1878).The latter is an especially underrated work that deserves to be heard far more often. There is also the Psalm 18,Coeli enarrant for soloists, chorus and orchestra, op. 42 (1865) and the Psalm 150, Praise ye the Lord for double-chorus of mixed voices, orchestra and organ, op. 127 (c. 1908) - works I have yet to hear. Saint-Saëns wrote duplicate settings of several smaller sacred works such as the O salutaris, Ave maria, Veni Creator and Tangum ergo. On this release Saint-Saëns is represented by five of the smaller settings of which the pick is Quam dilecta for choir and organ, op. 148 (1915). This is a tender and affecting motet with a sensitively written and atmospheric organ part. Incidentally Saint-Saëns himself was an organist of great repute having been organist for twenty years at L'église de la Madeleine, Paris. The haunting Ave Maria for choir and organ, op. 145 (1914) is beautiful in its devotion to the Virgin Mary. For unaccompanied choir, the neo-Renaissance Ave verum corpus in E flat major has a stark beauty. I also greatly enjoyed the enchanting Ave verum corpus,a D major setting for female choir and organ.
A pupil of Saint-Saëns, Gabriel Fauré followed his teacher’s lead and wrote a considerable number of sacred choral scores. The most famous of these by far is the renowned Messe de Requiem, op. 48 (1887-1900) one the most performed and recorded sacred scores. Also occasionally encountered is the Cantique de Jean Racine, op. 11 (1863-65) and the Messe Basse (1888-1907). Fauré is represented by settings on this release. I especially enjoyed the O salutaris hostia, op. 47/1 sung with yearning reverence by the soprano chorus with organ accompaniment. There’s also a highly attractive short Maria, Mater gratiae, op. 47/2 (1888) movingly delivered by soprano Marie Lemaire and alto Hetty Boardman-Weston with organ accompaniment. The women’s choir with organ piece, Ave verum corpus, op. 65/1 (1894) is a gracious devotion to the Virgin Mary. It’s rather an anonymous and unmemorable piece. By contrast the Tantum ergo, op. 65/2 (1894) scored for two sopranos and an alto with organ sung by Rachel Thomas, Carys Brown and Hetty Boardman-Weston is well worth hearing. I was also mightily impressed by the two pieces for solo soprano with organ (1894-95): the Salve Regina, op. 67/1 and the Ave Maria, op. 67/2 which Rachel Thomas sings with an exquisitely chaste tone.
Allowing for the distinguished Chandos orchestral series Vincent d’Indy’s wonderful Romantic music is rarely encountered today. An associate of Saint-Saëns, d’Indy was founder member and director of the Schola Cantorum de Paris, an organisation that nurtured a revival of interest in Gregorian chant and music of the Italian Renaissance in the style of Palestrina. D’Indy is represented here by four motets. Of particular note is the Ave Regina coelorum with its chromatic part-writing for unaccompanied voices, op. 79 (1922). It is given an intensely satisfying performance. The Deus Israel conjungat vos for 4/6 parts, op. 41 (1896) is a substantial score at over 6 minutes and is cast in two sections. The complex writing is well served by the assured soloists.

Déodat de Sévérac studied under d’Indy and Magnard in Paris at the Schola Cantorum. Only a small number of Sévérac’s sacred choral works have survived and four of them appear here. I especially enjoyed the lightly chromatic motet Ave verum corpus (1898) for two soprano soloists with organ. This is sung with radiant devotional expression by Amy Puttick and Carys Brown. Written in a relatively simple style I found the late motet Tantum ergo (1920) for unaccompanied choir spiritually comforting throughout.
Clearly relishing this programme the choir, scrupulously prepared under the direction of Professor David Rowland is in inspiring voice. Their impressive vocal sonority, reverence and unity produce cascades of attractive sound. All of this is coupled with pin-point precision. Organist Roxy Summerfield, a Cambridge University graduate, plays with real credit throughout. The recording was made in March 2011 a short distance from their own chapel at Jesus College which I am informed is a much quieter location. Crystal clear and well balanced sound can be enjoyed in this satisfying church acoustic. In all respects this Regent release is nothing short of stunning.
Michael Cookson

A stunning release.