Can great conductors get it all wrong and ruin great music? The answer is, Yes. Bernstein's Enigma Variations and Symphony Pathetique, Celibidache's Symphony Pathetique, Maazel's Mahler 3rd, to name a few, but this performance of Faure's Requiem is by far the worst I've come across.
The introduction and Kyrie starts off promisingly with lots of weight and solemn atmosphere, but you soon realise the tempo is too sluggish and by the time you reach 8th minute of the track, you may fall asleep. But, those who could manage to keep awake must endure 9'59" of Offertoire, which just drags on and on, Fischer-Dieskau's solo singing is superb though. Edingburgh Festival Chorus sings 'Sanctus' most beautifully and the music is presented in magnificent grandeur. Sheila Armstrong's opera diva rendition of 'Pie Jesu' completely spoils the sublime serenity of the music. 'Agnus Dei' is paced very slowly and sung in deeply reverent atmosphere, but just like the opening, it's too weighty and it is more like a choral scene from a Wagner opera, followed by full-blown Wagnerian rendition of 'Libera me' by Fischer-Dieskau. The chorus, on the other hand, sings as if in one of Verdi's operas, with too much passion and verve. The only saving grace in the entire performance is the sublime rendition of 'In Paradisum' where you can at last breathe a sigh of relief, realising the end is nigh.
Nobody doubts today that Barenboim is one of the great conductors - in fact he is the last living conductor of the great German tradition starting from Furtwangler, but in this particular performance, he misjudges everything and makes too much of the solemn ceremony and Wagnerian drama out of the music, completely misunderstanding the composer's vision. Faure intended this requiem to reflect death as a consummation of life, a peaceful resting place, not the anguish and the gravity of the traditional requiem. If you encounter the music for the first time and come to believe this is a great recording, it would be a great tragedy. This performance can cause the composer come out of his grave!