The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra's latest tour has included three dates at New York's Carnegie Hall: a concert of Sibelius symphonies, another of late Mozart and truncated Wagner, and this one of waltzes, polkas, and Richard Strauss.

The second half, dedicated to the music of Johann Strauss II, predictably came off best. This is the music the Vienna Philharmonic are known for worldwide, through their internationally-broadcast New Year's Day concerts. Lorin Maazel, whose links with the orchestra are celebrated with this tour and who exchanged mutual salutes with the orchestra in the programme note, has conducted those revelries eleven times, and imparted a sure hand to this lighter music.

There is, of course, room for exploring the purely musical merits of this music, as conductors like Herbert von Karajan, Carlos Kleiber, and Daniel Barenboim have showed in their New Year's Day concerts. Maazel was content simply to show the Philharmonic off. That said, the technical precision of the orchestra was often a little lacking. Still, the intriguingly close harmonies of the Secunden Polka had a suave, knowing air, and the Kaiser Waltz's long digressions had a pompous grandeur befitting a work that celebrated the two Central European empires in 1889. The Tritsch-Tratsch Polka was enjoyably raucous, and An der schönen, blauen Donau (‘On the Beautiful Blue Danube’) was lingered over, to display the Philharmonic's famous tone to greatest effect – even if its triumphalism showed how far the piece has come from Strauss' original conception of a satire on Austrian military defeat. Two excerpts from Die Fledermaus were less successful, particularly the overture. The tempo here seemed far too slow, without the mitigating cheeriness or almost symphonic rigour that other conductors might have brought out.

The Richard Strauss pieces played before the interval would not usually be considered less intellectual showpieces – unlike those of Richard's namesake – but they came off as such here. Tod und Verklärung is an early (1889) foray into a subject Strauss revisited repeatedly, analysing the myriad relationships confronted by a composer and his works. Later Strauss would deal with such issues as artistic compromise (Ariadne auf Naxos), the musician and his critics (Ein Heldenleben), and even musician and morality (Capriccio, Metamorphosen). Here Strauss looks at how artistic accomplishments transfigure the memory of an artist: Liszt and Wagner, notably, died in the decade of the piece's composition. Unusually, the Vienna Philharmonic's famous lack of precision – which ordinarily contributes to their historic sound – verged too close to scruffiness. The ponderous, fragmented treatment of the tone poem and unwieldy rubato meant that a Tristanesque sense of narrative was sorely lacking.

Strauss' own suite from Der Rosenkavalier was similarly milked. There was, at times, a sensual atmosphere more in keeping with the poignant temper of the opera, especially in the long waltz for solo violin. With the full orchestra, however, Maazel pulled the tempo around and emphasised the surface extroversion of Strauss' writing. The results were simply too gaudy to get too the tender heart of one of Strauss' masterpieces.