OK, time to get into the spirit of Richard Strauss' amazing music - over the top, according to some - and haul out the superlatives.
I don't know what sort of reticent, flaccid Strauss another reviewer here (or the Grammophone magazine reviewer he cites) has in mind in writing unfavorably about some of the playing on this disc, but I would urge readers to listen for themselves and see what their own ears tell them. This is one of the best Strauss albums in existence: A good selection of short, relatively early works, and some of the best Strauss playing - and conducting - ever committed to binary code.
The center of gravity has to be the ferocious account of the Burleske for piano and orchestra, with the legendary fire-and-ice Argentinian pianist Martha Argerich at the absolute top of her game, and conductor Claudio Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonic keeping pace perfectly, matching her stroke for stroke in a performance that somehow combines heaven storming with extraordinary nuance. They hold nothing back in this stylishly idiomatic, all-out tear through one of the most technically challenging pieces in the piano and orchestra literature. I think the version here tops even the legendary (and still great!) Serkin/Ormandy recording from the 1950s.
Don Juan and Till Eulenspiegel are well-worn war horses, but they sound fresh and audacious here, and, yes, the playing is thrillingly forward (I'll leave judgements of "aggression" up to other listeners), seeming to strain at the very limits of virtuosic power but, in fact, always under the perfect control of Abbado's sure, steady hand. I've heard numerous renditions of these great pieces, most of the modern ones and historic ones going back to the beginning of recorded sound, including legendary versions conducted by the great Wilhelm Furtwangler and by Richard Strauss himself. And of all the recordings of these pieces over the decades, including some truly excellent ones, I can think of none that I prefer to these two. If there were some theoretical encyclopedia associating great music with recordings that "defined" them, then these would be my nominees for Don Juan and Till Eulenspiegel, on the basis of being the most perfectly Straussian.
I'm less qualified to comment on the Rosenkavalier selection (readers might well surmise I'm temperamentally more closely aligned with the operatic Strauss of Salome and Elektra), though anyone who loves this composer's work will appreciate the soaring beauty of this music and of these wonderful voices. It's appropriate that, whereas each preceding track on this album of live recordings ends in silence, this one ends in warmly enthusiastic applause and cheers. Bravo, indeed.
In addition to the above-mentioned virtues, the sound on this disc is bright, clear and generally very well balanced, and - importantly for Strauss - the horn sound is exceptionally warm and full-bodied, managing at crucial moments to achieve the bright orange timbre sought after by horn aficionados and Straussians alike (or aren't usually one and the same?). The piano is recorded with unusual clarity and body in the Burleske, and the voices seem well balanced, among themselves and against the orchestra, in Rosenkavalier.