The CD described on this Amazon listing is an early 1990s Virgin Classics release. It's worth mentioning that this recording was later reissued on EMI at budget/mid-price and generally greater availability.
In any event, here we have Oliver Knussen and the London Sinfonietta's take on three pieces by Elliott Carter from across several decades of the composer's career. Though Carter's music is not for everyone, the range shown here and the quality of the recording and performances makes this recommended for fans of the 20th century avant-garde.
The Concerto for Orchestra (1970) is quite an experience. In writing it, Carter was inspired by Saint-John Perse's long poem "Vents" (Winds), which describes metaphorical gales blowing over America, destroying the old and bringing in the new. The orchestra is divided into four groups and every performer is a soloist at some point, but instead of perceiving the fine divisions that highlight individual performers, I've always heard the Concerto for Orchestra as something of a brutal orchestral monolith, wonderfully loud, crashing and banging. In spite of the rich variety of timbres, the overall colour is a kind of intimidating grey. This is Carter as the modernist bad boy who drives subscriber audiences out of the hall, but adventurous listeners who stick around may find it gripping, and audiences brought up on punk or heavy metal probably have a better chance than most classical fans.
The Concerto for Orchestra has also been recorded by Michael Gielen and the SWF Symphony Orchestra on a Arte Nova disc. A strong aspect of Knussen recording is that it is divided over several tracks on the disc (Introduction, Movements I, II, III, IV and Coda), whereas the Gielen recording is on a single track.
The Violin Concerto (1980) is in three movements Impulsivo-Tranquillo-Scherzando. Not only does this piece reflect the mellowing that Carter's music underwent in the Eighties -- where the multi-tempoed instruments are more in convivial dialogue than conflict -- but there is also a palpable inspiration from Classical and early Romantic concertos. It probably still won't win over conservative concertgoers for whom classical music ended a century ago, but when I read Carter interviews where he stated that he greatly appreciates Mozart, I no longer consider it an empty platitutde. If I had to compare the Violin Concerto to any other Carter work, then it would be the Symphonia "Sum fluxae pretium spei" of several years later. It not only has the same joie de vivre at times, but the second movement of the concerto and the second movement of the Symphonia are slow, dark, mournful landscapes unusual in the music of this generally hyperactive composer.
The Violin Concerto has also been recorded by Rolf Schulte and the Odense Symphony Orchestra conducted by Justin Brown on a Bridge disc. I don't find one performance superior to the other, but this one has slightly better sound, plus the fact that Ole Böhn was the dedicatee makes this performance worth hearing.
Finally, we have the 3 Occasions for Orchestra, a set of brief occasional pieces that Carter wrote between 1986 and 1989. The first, "A Celebration of 100 x 150 Notes" was writen for the Houston Symphony to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Texas. It's a fanfare lasting exactly 150 bars that, for has its uncomprising modernism, has some downright charming writing for brass. "Remembrace" was written as a memorial for Paul Fromm, its sad expanses foretell the middle movement of his "Symphonia" just like the Violin Concerto does. "Anniversary" was written on the occasion of his fiftieth wedding anniversary to his wife Helen Carter, it's an airy piece, though feels somewhat fluffy and insubstantial after a few listens.
Gielen also recorded the 3 Occasions on the aforementioned Arte Nova. Gielen's is a live recording with some audience noise and close miking, and Gielen tends to accentuate the drive of Carter's score. The Knussen, on the other hand, is more distantly miked and this conductor brings out the more delicate elements better.