This recording of what is probably Strauss's greatest tone poem was made in 1975, when Karajan and Rostropovich were both at the height of their powers. It lives up to all expectations. First of all, the balance between orchestra and cello solo is excellent. This is not a cello concerto, but an orchestral piece with a part for solo cello. Secondly, the Berlin Philharmonic (it hardly needs to be said) plays with fiery intensity, beautiful tone and incredible virtuosity. This was the best orchestra in the world at this time, and it shows. Thirdly, the contributions of Rostropovich and Ulrich Koch (the solo violist) are superb. Rostropovich produces rich, full, beautiful tone but also paints a detailed portrait of Don Quixote, leading the listener straight into Quixote's head. He brings out Strauss's ingenious portrayal of the Don's gradual descent into insanity, until his death, where, as the excellent liner notes point out, he regains his wits. Rostropovich plays the magnificent death scene movingly. Last, but certainly not least, is Karajan's conducting. From the bleating sheep in Variation II to the lyrical outpourings of Variation III to the amazing flying horse in Variation VII, this master Straussian completely understands every part of the complex score, and has complete control of his forces, bringing everything together to produce what is probably the best Don Quixote on record.
The two Wagner overtures make excellent fillers. Tannhäuser has a nobility (for the Pilgrim's Chorus theme) and an exotic flavor (for the Venusberg music) that are ideal, and Die Meistersinger has a thrilling richness and depth. The analogue sound has been skilfully remastered using EMI's ART system, and now there is no tape-hiss at all. This is a superb achievement and, at mid-price, a bargain, too.