I bought this about three weeks ago, and I hadn't got round to playing it before reading of Boulez's death at 90. So, out of respect for the man, and wondering about my tolerance for Schoenberg, I gave it a go. It's a very good bargain. The purely orchestral pieces, on Disc 1 were recorded in 1992, and the concertos on Disc 2 about six years earlier and in a different venue. Disc 1 has a bit more presence, and Schoenberg's skill as an orchestrator is clearly shown. The "Pelleas" tone poem is an early (pre-serial) work, long for a tone-poem at 40 minutes, but Boulez keeps a firm hand on it and builds the tension splendidly so that the big outburst about three-quarters of the way through is quite terrific. The basic motivic material strikes me as being a kind of gently-rocking, even lullaby-like figure, which is interrupted with increasing intensity throughout. It suggests perhaps something childlike about Pelleas and Melisande's love, with the interruptions suggesting a dream becoming a nightmare, with Golaud's fury. It might be a bit long, but it's richly scored, texturally varied, and effective. The later Variations for Orchestra, Op. 31 is a piece composed on serial principles about which I know next to nothing. Don't let that bother you, though. I found this piece obviously coherent, enjoyable, and playful or witty. Again, it's well-played.
The recording on CD 2 has a bit less presence, though it's clear enough, but the richness of the scoring of the orchestral part in the Violin Concerto perhaps suffers -- the DGG recording with Hahn and Salonen is beautifully recorded, with more presence and beauty than we have here, and Hahn is outstanding. Pierre Amoyal is fine -- less rich in tone than Hahn but very moving in the eloquent second movement and sprightly in the scherzo-like moments in the finale. This is a genuinely great piece of work, for all its eschewal of the standard Romantic tricks. And make no mistake -- it's a display piece too, and if serialism can be this expressive, than I'm all for it. The Piano Concerto, with Peter Serkin as the limpid soloist, seems less of a showpiece and more of an orchestral piece with piano obbligato -- that's an impressionistic response, and I don't intend to minimize the difficulties of the piano part, though it does seem less daunting than the solo violin part in the earlier concerto. There's a jazzy touch in the opening section that suggests the carefreeness of the Weimar bars and wine cellars, but it gives way to an absolutely beautiful adagio section that doesn't quite go as deep as tragedy, at least to my ears here. What follows is lighter and life-affirming, and the overall effect is of a very pleasant piece of music. I've heard good things about Uchida's more recent recording with Boulez, but I don't own it.