Although this came out some 14 years ago it does no harm to laud it (late). The recording under Jean-Gabriel Gaussens that RCA put out in the early 1970s, and from which I, around the mid-70s, got to know this daftly neglected work, has never been reissued on CD, unfortunately. The reading of Diego Fasolis, whom I would call a great interpreter of all he takes on, if thinly spread in the catalogue (perhaps that's his secret), seems to come close in atmosphere to the Gaussens (though I've refrained from playing the LP again, in case its age tells against it unfairly). The Mercier recording (which I bought long before the Fasolis - which either I didn't spot; or it wasn't yet out; or I knew him from nothing - as a better-than-having-nothing-on-CD choice), is perhaps a bit too pastoral and doesn't seem to fire up this very short work convincingly (he and his forces seem more interested in the other work on their disc, which comes off better). Fasolis makes it of a piece; his drive goes without saying to anyone who knows his work; also this reading has a good pong of the sarcophagus to it, without which no requiem should be. All three recordings employ tenors of a certain Gallic-sounding kind (more or less) - can't imagine it without that, and Luca Lombardo seems to hit the same spot Francis Bardot did with Gaussens. The assorted fillers are all right to have but are probably there purely at the behest of the label - in this case I think a 'short' CD might have been artistically sounder at least: when that stupendous Agnus Dei comes to its end, you don't really want to have to snap out of its cold and reeky embrace swiftly enough to block 'Romance du soir' cutting in!
I am grateful to Bernard Michael O'Hanlon for alerting me to the genius of this work. For too long, I'd thought of Saint-Saëns only in terms of Carnival of the Animals and the Organ Symphony. The Requiem, however, trumps both these works for sheer beauty. It's astonishing. The Benedictus is one of the loveliest things I've ever heard. If you haven't yet heard this, waste as little time as possible in addressing the situation.
Saint-Säens’ Requiem (Opus 54) is an inspired work but four movements therein are masterpieces: the Hostias, Sanctus, Benedictus and the Salute-to-the-Godfather that is the Agnus Dei. Of the quartet, the Benedictus in particular has the stopping-power of a Forty Four Magnum. How are such things possible? For a few days at the time of composition, Uncle Camille must have been touched by the Hand of God: no other explanation is possible. Over the past year, I have listened to them innumerably. They give, give and give again.
This Italian performance, in excellent sound, is superb. How it bestills one! I rank it alongside Saint-Saëns: Requiem. Fasolis also impressed me mightily in his Naxos recording of Cherubini’s Requiem in C Minor: he’s the man for such jobs. As fillers, the Partsongs are atmospheric and well-crafted as one would expect from Saint-Säens. They failed to make a strong impression on me – but it matters little. Venture beyond the Organ Symphony! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.