The Seville, Spain-based Zahir Ensemble, under the direction of Juan Garcia Rodriguez, updated these 12 tone masterpieces from Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) on the low-priced Naxos label, making them accessible to listeners everywhere for a low price. Two things differentiate this performance of Schoenberg's Op. 29 Suite for small orchestra and his Op. 1 No. 9 Chamber Symphony: the pair are performed more aromatically, more romantically, than has typically been the case with 20th century music. Second, the chamber symphony that Schoenberg wrote for 15 instruments is performed under a five-instrument reduction that gives listeners insight into every technical and counterpoint aspect of the scores.
My favorite recording of the Suite has been the one recorded in 1973 by David Atherton and members of the London Sinfonietta that is performed more intellectually and with greater misterioso than the Spanish forces provide. There is no question the newer recording is the better one, however, with a brighter torch on each instrument and the overall pallette of the music. By comparison, the Atherton recording is a bit dry and understated with less juicy and vivid woodwinds. Atherton is the more intellectually involved interpreter, in my view, probing every nook and cranny of the score with greater fervor than Rodriguez, whose recording, as the other reviewer attests, is focused more on poetry, even musical literacy. In my mind, I see the score more clearly when listening to Atherton but it is more pleasurable under the Spaniards. Another advantage of the Atherton is inclusion of the Wind Quintet, Op. 26, another of Schoenberg's dodecaphonic masterpieces of chamber music.
I do not find similar pleasure in the chamber symphony reduction. My preferred recording of this music is Jascha Horenstein's romanticized account that comes off as modern film music more telling in storyline and more accountable to the composer's unwritten direction to treat the score as if it were in four parts even though it is written as one long soliloquy. The advantage of the Rodriguez reading is you hear clearly what every instrument is doing all the way through the nearly 23 minutes' duration. Rodriguez is neither the storyteller nor the philospher Horenstein was, however, and that's what's missing from the reduction.
At the cost Amazon sellers charge for this (it was available for less than $5 new the day I wrote this), no one with any interest should shy away from this production. The 21st century update of the Suite is quite good by any standard. I think most people would want to hear the chamber symphony in its 15 instrument version if this is their first exposure to it. There are many fine recordings of that music including Mehta's classic version from Vienna and accounts from Holliger and Robert Craft.