I happened to be listening to Classical radio one night several weeks ago. In the late night hours, they played the Faure "Requiem" from this disc. Although I have several very good performances of this in my collection, I felt compelled to order this one to study it further. I am so glad I did. It has brought me hours of enjoyment.
Giulini does a marvelous job of capturing the essence of the rarely heard Verdi Sacred Songs. In fact, I must admit that he helped deepen my appreciation of them. The performance of the "Ave Maria" is ethereal and delicately balanced. The "Laudi alla Verginae Maria" shares this ethos in setting the Dante text from "Il Paradiso", and utilizes the resources of a large women's choir a capella. The "Te Deum" comes through as fervent Verdi and achieves maximum dramatic affect. Janet Baker is heard in a small, but earnest solo line toward the end of the work. I withhold comment on the "Stabat Mater" for the simple reason that I have never been able to love the piece.
While in the Verdi pieces, a choir of about 270 is featured, a smaller group of seventy voices was used to perform and record the Faure. While there is certainly something very beautiful about a good Men and Boys choir rendition of this work, this elegant reading by adults and the solos done by more mature voices captures what is to my ears the essence of the work. To my ears and senses, Faure uses the choir as a representation of the mourners. There is a certain emotional fatigue underlying the work, and the chorus must seem to be longing to believe in the mercy of God and promises of faith in bring it off successfully. This is achieved to an awesome degree in this performance. Although the technical aspects of recording live in 1962 may have been eclipsed since then, it would be difficult to find a more elegant and poetic approach to the work. The soloists are Gerard Souzay and Janet Baker, both (in my not so humble opinion) among the finest musicians who used their voice as their instrument in my lifetime. Both share an ability to shade the nuance and shaping of every phrase to maximize the soul of the text. In the very brief "Pie Jesu," I was astounded to hear the beautiful, subtle use of Baker's voice. There is simply something other-worldly about her performance on this disc.