New Year's Concert in Vienna, 1987
A splendid and indispensable issue for all admirers of Karajan and Johann Strauss. Watching the actual concert on TV was very touching, with the great conductor obviously moved by the occasion and, with a minimum of gesture, coaxing from the Viennese players performances combining warmth, subtlety and freshness. There is no more magical moment than when in the Blue Danube Karajan repeats a section very gently, sotto voce. He has done this on his previous studio recordings, but here there is the added spontaneity of the live flow of affection from conductor, to orchestra, to audience (plus the widest possible dynamic range). Hiw view that ''the introductions are the key to the waltzes and this is where the Strausses, father and sons were way ahead of their time'' is given special substance by the beguiling shaping of the opening of Music of the Spheres and even more in the darkly dramatic introduction of Delirien. The polkas are a delight: Annen (which Karajan takes quite slowly) is graciously cultivated, but Beliebte Annen (by Johann senior) is quite delicious in its delicate rhythmic articulation; there is energy and vigour in Vergnungszug (''Excurions Train'') and the roisterous, yet controlled dash of Donner und Blitz suggests a conductor at the beginning of his career rather than in his still creative autumnal phase. The rubato in the Pizzicato Polka never plays to the gallery and the crisp
The choice of Kathleen Battle as soloist was ideal—her delicate roulades in Voices of spring are captivating and there is a wonderful smile on the voice. This is in the Hilde Gueden/Rita Streich tradition of sparkle and charm and the lilting accompaniment is suitably laid back, to match the totally relaxed coloratura—a classic performance by any standards. The Blue Danube was, of course, an encore, and what an encore! Shortly after the concert Karajan told of his love of the music since childhood and revealed that the choice of programme featured ''compositions which over the years have come to mean a great deal to me''. He conveys this strikingly throughout and never more than at the gorgeously played opening of the Blue Danube where the Vienna players demonstrate that ''their feeling for waltz rhythms is absolutely unique'', as soon as the strings take up the melody introduced so evocatively by the horns. The acoustics of the Musikverein are ideal for this music, but balance is inevitably a problem with an audience (even a remarkably unintrusive one). However, DG's balance engineer, Gunter Hermanns is to be congratulated on his skill especially in the vocal number. One is not made aware of the microphones and the overall effect is very realistic. The upper range is brightly lit, but there is a balancing fullness at the other end of the spectrum, detail is excellent and the ambient resonance of the lower strings is well projected without any boominess. With 69 minutes offered this now leads the Johann Strauss digital discography. Incidentally audiophiles will be impressed by the side drums at the beginning of the closing march and the clapping, though enthusiastic, is never allowed to drown the music: Karajan effortlessly has the audience under his command as well as the orchestra.
The presentation, I feel, is well below standard—in the heyday of LP this would have been issued in an elegant double sleeve. The CD leaflet unfolds to reveal a ''cinemascope'' style picture of the occasion, but offers no information about the music itself and does not include anything about the occasion.'