Details: (c) 1988 The Decca Record Company; Opus 48; Orchestral version 1901
Reasons for listening to it: I've been completely obsessed with this Requiem since I was 12 so it seemed good to hear a new version.
How it came into my hands: It happened to be in the local library. (For some reason they shelved it under 'Easy Listening'; they seem to imagine that anything which doesn't have a dominant drum beat falls into this category...)
Verdict: Ummm. The balance of instruments is wrong. Obviously technically excellent with such big names, but when it's wrong it's wrong.
I have to start by admitting a prejudice; I've always preferred the original 1888 "chamber" version of this piece; the full orchestral version (and there's even rumours that it wasn't really Fauré who scored it, but one of his apprentices) can easily sound like steretypical 19th century bombastic noise. This version is certainly more subtle than some, it is true. It manages to come pretty close to keeping the emotional intensity of the music as well as the grand public performance aspect that the orchestral version implies. And the singing is faultless and often sublime.
This version seems to lean on the music somehow, it's as if every single note is given its full weight. The first time I listened to it I thought they'd slowed the tempo down quite a lot, but I think that's just the impression created by its seriousness. It puts me in mind of the kind of magnificent cathedral style of Christianity I've always found exceptionally alienating. But I'm not against magnificent expressions of Christianity; obviously it's not important whether I feel comfortable with the architecture, music, atmosphere and so on, and indeed I can still appreciate these, albeit from an emotionally safe distance.
I don't like the baritone solo passages at all; I'm not sure whether this is Milnes in general, or just Milnes singing the Requiem in what seems to me an inappropriately operatic style. I think probably the latter; I'm very hard to please when it comes to that baritone solo; my ex ID was learning the music when we were going out and tended to sing it at emotionally charged moments. He was trained exclusively in church and then college chapel choirs, and because of that association anything overtly operatic is going to jar with me.
But there's no getting round the fact that the balance is often wrong. The string section dominates everything, and it really isn't meant to be schmaltzy violin music. Even the orchestral version ought to emphasize the choir above the accompaniment. And having Dame Kiri sing the diminuendo 'sempiternam requiem' all the way down to the most beautiful, moving pianissimo is wasted if she's all but drowned out by the orchestra thumping away mezzo forte. Though that said, the brass is quite splendid in Dies Irae.
In my opinion, the final movement In Paradisum makes or breaks this piece. For years I thought the movement itself was a disaster; I was constantly shocked that such a musical master as Fauré could stoop so low as to write that tinkly rubbish. Then I discovered the 1994 Schola Cantorum version on the Naxos label (ASIN B0000013Y0), which manages to get that movement exactly right, sweet without being cloying or worse, sounding like an icecream van jingle. The Schola version is the gold standard by which I judge all other versions; probably another reason why I was a bit set against this recording before I even heard it. When Schola sing 'donna eis requiem', you imagine that it's their own friends and lovers that they're singing about; you're never going to get that kind of intimacy with this sort of large-scale production.
So how does the Montréal version cope with the In Paradisum problem? It's not nearly so bad as some; it at least fits in with all the other movements rather than sounding like something entirely unrelated tacked on the end. But they make the same mistake that almost all productions do: over-emphasis on the arpeggios, which ruin the whole thing if they are even noticeable, let alone prominent. Oh, and the highest range of the organ in this recording sounds far too much like a bird chirping, one of those really annoying birds that wakes you up at dawn when you're trying to have a lie-in.