There are basically 3 versions of this work -- the original from circa 1888 with very reduced orchestration, and missing the Offertoire and Libera Me movements. This version on this recording dates from 1893, and is the first to contain the Offertoire and Libera Me movements (the Libera Me actually was written as a stand-alone work way back in 1877). The 1893 version uses an orchestra almost as small as the first version, but adds horns and trumpets, plus violins in In Paradisum. Later, in 1900, Fauré allowed a large orchestration version of the work to be published -- the one we usually hear today.
If you have heard only that 1900 full-orchestra version, you have not really heard this work in its purest beauty. The smaller forces allow the gentleness of this music to wash over the listener in a way not possible in the 1900 version with full orchestra and larger chorus.
The clean, restrained, but lovingly-shaped straight-tone singing of this ensemble makes it the perfect choir for this smaller-forces version. The sopranos singing "Lux aeterna" in the middle of the Agnus Dei bring forth a sound as crystalline as a glass harmonica -- stunning in purity. In Pie Jesu, soprano soloist Caroline Ashton sings with a gentle ethereal tone that has one doing a double-take -- wasn't that some top-drawer boy soprano? Baritone Stephen Varcoe's solos are appropriately clean and expressive, but in this case I did miss the fuller richer baritone sound of other recordings.
This recording also contains a juicy bon-bon -- the Fauré's drop-dead-gorgeous morsel, Cantique de Jean Racine in a version with orchestration by Rutter. All's well with the word after spending 6 minutes and 48 seconds listening to that track!