Poulenc wrote the work in 1950 following the death of Christian Bernard, who among other things designed sets for Cocteau. The composer describes it as a "requiem without despair", and indeed, it is more beautiful and consoling than mournful.
It is a striking work with the choir taking pride of place. You can imagine the composer doing his composing on a piano, in part because it is much more homophonic than polyphonic. You can imagine him trying out various voicing possibilities until he was satisfied. The results are in the choral tradition but a good deal more post-romantic/modern than neo-baroque or neo-classical.
And why not? It is a work that stands on its own as a singularly moving elegy, with harmonic movement that is nothing short of extraordinary. Sampson and the amassed choir and orchestra under Reuss give us a tender and dramatic reading of the work.
It's a side of Poulenc I've missed and I am glad to have caught up to it at last. The version offered here is sonically stunning and state-of-the-art.
Do not hesitate.