Many classical music enthusiasts believe that the first half of the 20th century was the golden age of symphony conducting. The great Hungarian Artur Nikisch influenced nearly all of his successors, including Leopold Stokowski, Arturo Toscanini, Václav Talich, and Serge Koussevitzky. Unlike the conductors of today, each developed highly individual and immediately recognizable style. Nikisch himself made a few acoustic recordings, including the first recording of a complete symphony – Beethoven's Fifth. However, the severe limitations of the acoustic process make it quite difficult to appreciate his work today.
Like Nikisch, conductor Gustav Mahler was also a powerful influence. His friends and disciples included the wayward but invariably fascinating Oskar Fried, Otto Klemperer, Bruno Walter, and Willem Mengelberg. (Look for Mengelberg's incomparable Mahler 4th, with its constantly fluctuating tempos, to reappear some day on CD.)
Sir Thomas Beecham and Wilhelm Furtwängler were also among the most outstanding interpreters of their era. Sadly, two of Furtwängler's most powerful and moving recordings are not currently available: the apocalyptic 1945 Beethoven 5th and the 1953 Schubert 9th, both originally recorded for Deutsche Grammophon. Beecham, on the other hand, is well represented in the current catalog, and his later stereo recordings of music by Franz Schubert, Edvard Grieg, and Wolfgang Mozart are especially compelling.