The two Stabat Maters on this disk (the opening track is six verses of a Gregorian chant of the same text) were both composed in remembrance of the dead (in Poulenc's case, a personal friend; in Szymanowski's, the daughter of the man who commissioned it; it is interesting to note that neither composer wrote a Requiem).
The two works, however, are vastly different: Poulenc's work belies its title--it is almost a series of twelve choral dances, some fast and almost joyous, some slow and somber. The finale is impressive, if bizarre: the soprano soloist sings as if she were about to storm Heaven, and the final "Amen" is unusual as well.
Szymanowski's "Stabat Mater" is, IMO, a much stronger work, ranking with those of Rossini and Dvorak as among the very best settings of this text. In six movements, it is sung here in Polish (Poulenc's is in Latin), which makes the sound simultaneously more exotic and more intensely personal. It moves through a wider arc of emotions, from simple counterpoint in the opening movement to a paean for chorus, baritone, full orchestra, and organ in the penultimate movement.
But what makes this disc so special for me is the final movement of the Szymanowski. Shaw takes it a much slower pace--6 min, versus the usual 5 min--and the result is simply amazing: an almost heartbreaking yearning for heavenly peace that sends chills down my spine when I hear it.
The Atlanta Symphony Chorus is outstanding as usual, and the soloists are uniformly excellent, especially soprano Christine Goerke.
My only reservation about this disc is that the version I bought, four or five years ago, did not print the accented Polish characters in the libretto. I can only hope that has since been corrected. That aside, I highly recommend this CD.