Simon Rattle has recorded a lot of 19th century music and most of the results have been dismal. There is little to recommend by Rattle in pre-20th century repertoire. A few Haydn symphonies, some pretty good Brahms, bits of Mahler, Ein Heldenleben by Strauss which is just at the cusp of the 20th century. Alright, so Rattle is not the conductor to go to for the great classics. However, when he records modern music, he seems fully in tune with it's sound and style, plus he has less competition on the market to boot.
Here is a collection from a trio of composers that seem forever destined to be tough nuts to crack as far as their music being loved and achieving mass exposure. They are never going to achieve popularity. At the same time, anyone with an open mind and open ears can be enthralled by the works contained here. Schoenberg's creepy, mysterious Five Orchestral Pieces, Webern's ethereal and far more compact Six Orchestral Pieces. Rattle plays them all with nuance and feeling. The real reason I bought this disc is the Lulu Suite and it's a breathtaking, haunting compilation from Berg's great modern opera. Arleen Auger is the soprano soloist and she scores great on all accounts. Her contribution is limited to two tracks, so people who are afraid of operatic singing need not worry. Rattle and his Burmingham orchestra are the true stars. Comparing directly Rattle's take on the Lulu Suite against Abbado's with the LSO on DG, I consistently find Rattle more involved, more refined and sharper when the music needs more violence. The digital recording by EMI is also expert and scores over DG's analogue sound for Abbado which lacks some atmosphere. Rattle made this record back in 1987-88 and it stands up to any competition on the market.