Schoenberg was one of the pioneering composers of the twentieth century and the most important work on this disc is the original, forward-looking expressionistic Five Pieces for Orchestra, the general characteristics of which are brevity and intensity of expression and which falls into his compositional period between those of the late romantic and the twelve-tone or serial. It is the only original work.
In contrast, Schoenberg, as Stravinsky, arguably the two compositional giants of the twentieth century, often looked to the past for inspiration, and the remaining two compositions on this disc are representatives of this aspect of Schoenberg's work.
The cello concerto is based upon a keyboard concerto by Georg Matthias Monn, an eighteenth century Austrian composer and organist. Schoenberg "freely adapted" and overlaid Monn's ideas with additional counterpoint and harmonies characteristic of the late nineteenth century. Although originally presented to Pablo Casals for its premiere, Casals deemed it too difficult; it was later first publicly performed by Emanuel Feuermann. Here cellist Fred Sherry admirably negotiates the cello part.
The Brahms Piano Quartet is a work Schoenberg had performed as both violist and cellist. Because he felt the piano part dominated the string parts, he arranged it for orchestra, without adding anything of substance, so that the string parts would be more prominent.
Conductor Robert Craft is a specialist in the works of Schoenberg, Webern, Stravinsky, and Varèse and his performances of Schoenberg's works were pioneering in their day. These reissues are more interesting for the cello concerto and the Brahms quartet, which are rarely recorded. Better recorded performances of the Five Pieces are available.