This Teldec recording, conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt is a very fine performance in many ways, and I would have awarded it 5 stars if we didn't have Carlos Kleiber's DGG recording to compare it with.
I usually judge an operatic performance on 5 criteria: 1) Soloists' vocal performances 2) Soloists' idiomatic qualities 3) Conductor's technical performance 4) Conductor's idiomatic qualities, and 5) Sound. Other criteria might come in to play, such as completeness of score, orchestral performance, etc.
The singers on this recording are all excellent, both in vocal and idiomatic qualities. When I compare it to the Kleiber's recording, I do think that the three of the lead singers here (Wottrich as Max, Orgonasova as Agathe, and Schafer as Annchen) don't have quite as youthful a sound as the singers on Kleiber's team (Schreier, Janowitz, and Mathis). This is not a significant issue, it's a matter of taste really, as all the singers on both recordings are in fine voice and inhabit their characters completely. Comparing some of the other roles, Matti Salminen, as Kaspar under Harnoncourt, is much stronger than Theo Adam under Kleiber. One note: the DGG studio recording uses actors for the spoken dialog.
Both recordings sound great. Kleiber's DGG studio recording, circa 1973, is analog but remastered and sounds clear and bright (very bright, though, in some places) and surprisingly detailed and dynamic. Teldec's 1996 digital recording is better; amazingly realistic and we hear all kinds of great orchestral detail, dynamics, and depth.
The big difference is in the conducting.
Harnoncourt is, obviously, an accomplished and justly renowned conductor. He began to establish his reputation in his pioneering authentic baroque recordings of Bach and Monteverdi, etc., in the 70s. He started to turn his attention to the works of romantic composers in the 90s, and he is excellent here in this live concert version of Weber's most popular opera. Where Kleiber really scores over Harnoncourt is in sheer electricity. Almost every moment is riveting.
1) Listen and compare the opening chorus (Viktoria, Viktoria!). Kleiber creates a real sense of celebration and abandon, the horns of the Dresden orchestra (where Weber himself was conductor) have true hunting horn swagger, and the peasant musicians sound authentically forward and coarse (kudos to the sound engineers on that one). Kleiber really shows how wonderfully rhythmic the writing of the libretto is here and accentuates it in his conducting. By comparison, Harnoncourt creates a polished sound (reminding me of von Karajan) which is less involving; the chorus and orchestra are great, but the chorus sounds like a concert not a crowd of peasants and the Berlin Philharmonic horns sound symphonic instead of like reveling hunters.
2) In the famous Act 2 Wolf's Glen scene, again Kleiber is to be preferred. There is knife-edge tension in the orchestra and deep menace in the chorus. Listen to the crescendo in the basses! When things get going, Kleiber has great propulsion and buoyancy, and he achieves a kind of punctuation that highlights the suspense in the words being sung. When the scene is over, you can tell you were holding your breath! In comparison, Harnoncourt, although really very good, is a degree tamer. His Wolf's Glen scene is 2 1/2 minutes longer than Kleiber's. It's not that sheer speed is always better, but the slower tempi in places draw things out, depriving the scene of some momentum - compared to Kleiber that is. Harnoncourt's approach to the counting of the bullets is also telling. The score calls for each count, yelled out by the evil Kaspar, to be echoed menacingly loud, but in the Teldec recording they chose to have the echo almost whispered. It's not suspenseful, rather it is the opposite.
3) And then there is the great Act 3 chorus. Again, Kleiber creates this real rousing carousing hunting chorus, aided by those swaggering horns, and you can't help tapping your feet and wanting to join in the revelry, which provides great contrast for what is about to come. Harnoncourt's chorus sounds wonderful, but again it sounds like a concert chorus, not a hunting, drinking chorus.
These are three key reference points that highlight the differences in approach by these two great conductors. In the final analysis, both recordings provide great satisfaction. But, if you can't own both recordings, Kleiber is the clear first choice.