As often as they've been told of Schoenberg's revolutionary genius, most concert goers don't get past his tonal music, which in fact was great in its own right. Here we get all the masterpieces, save the Five Orchestral Pieces, before the big break into serial music. But as tempting as this bargain two-fer looks, the individual performances don't maintian high quality. On CD 1 Barenboim's early Verklarte Nacht, in the orchestral version, is lush but sludgy. Barbirolli's Pelleas and Melisande, a real detour for this arch-traditionalist, is warmly played but nowhere near Boulez or Karajan for polish and drama.
CD 2 starts off with a big improvement, the young Simon Rattle's First Chamber Sym. in a reading that's everything one could ask for, with the exception of virtuosity. He's lucky, however, since there are few recordings with major orchestras. Count this the best thing on either disc. CD 2 ends with a surprisingly tepid reading by Rattle of Schoenberg's rollicking, rather oddball transcription of the Brahms Piano Quartet #1 in G minor, which needs more verve and commitment than we get here. In all, this seems to be a grab bag thrown together by EMI to market recordings that long ago died in the vaults.