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Historic Conductors

Beethoven Conducting

Orchestral Music - The Great Conductors

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.

Recommended Recordings

Recommended Recordings

Deutsche Grammophon/Westminster 471241-2
Beethoven: Symphonies 1, 3, 6 & 8/MCA MCAD2-9802
Herman Scherchen/Vienna State Opera Orchestra & Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Beethoven: Symphony 7
Haydn: Symphony 101
Mendelssohn: Midsummer Night's Dream (selections)/RCA 60316-2
Arturo Toscanini/New York Philharmonic Orchestra
Deutsche Grammophon 423715-2
Brahms: Symphony 4
Strauss: Death and Transfiguration/Deutsche Grammophon 423715-2
Victor de Sabata/Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Bruckner: Symphony 8/Music & Arts CD-624
Wilhelm Furtwängler/Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Dvořák: Symphonies 7 & 8/Koch 3-7007-2
Václav Talich/Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Mahler: Symphony 2 (1923/acoustic)/Pearl GEMM CDS 9929
Oskar Fried/Berlin State Opera Orchestra & Cathedral Choir
EMI CDH763029-2
Mahler: Symphony 9/EMI CDH763029-2
Bruno Walter/Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Moussorgsky-Ravel: Pictures at an Exhibition
Ravel: Boléro, La Valse, Daphnis and Chloé Suite #2/RCA 61392-2
Serge Koussevitzky/Boston Symphony
Sibelius: Symphonies 2, 5, 7, Tapiola, Pohjola's Daughter, Maiden with the Roses/Pearl GEMM CDS 9408
Serge Koussevitzky/Boston Symphony
Sibelius: Symphony 4, The Bard, In memoriam, Lemminkäinen's Return, En Saga, Valse triste/Koch 3-7061-2
Thomas Beecham/London Philharmonic Orchestra
Strauss: Ein Heldenleben (Mengelberg/New York Philharmonic), Also Sprach Zarathustra (Koussevitzky/Boston Symphony), Don Quixote (Beecham/New York Philharmonic), Death and Transfiguration (Stokowski/Philadelphia Orchestra)/RCA 60929-2

Vaughan Williams: Serenade to Music/Pearl GEMM CD 9342
Henry Wood/BBC Symphony & the vocal soloists for whom the work was composed
Wagner: Orchestral Works (1943-52)/Music & Arts CD 794
Wilhelm Furtwängler/Various orchestras