Who is your Favorite Historical Conductor?

For discussion purposes I am limiting this to

1) Wilhelm Furtwangler

2) Arturo Toscanini 

3) Bruno Walter


feel free to introduce others.  I will be arbitrary and cut off Conductors who worked after the death of Leonard Bernstein.

  Furtwangler and Toscanini died just short of the onset of the stereo era.  They were however recorded with the best technology of the times, and the work of restoration technology of today has done wonders.  Walter recorded until 1962 but perhaps his best work was done in the mono era.

  Walter was renowned for his “humanity” Furtwangler for his near mystical ability to rechannel German/Austrian music, and Toscanini for his finely chiseled intensity


Walter is my #1, in fact he’s one of my all-time favorite conductors. His interpretations are able to put me in a zen-like state, fully absorbing me in the music. Performances can be very emotional. I read that he would sometimes cry after a performance, the music must have brought his emotions to the surface.

I absolutely love Furtwängler’s Bruckner. This was my introduction to this maestro and I continued to explore his interpretations of other composers. He’s criticized for his changes in tempi which purists say were not the composers’ intent, but for me, this is what separates him from other conductors. My appreciation of Furtwängler began by listening to his late Beethoven stereo recordings. After Music & Arts remastered his early works, I realised these performances (recorded in mono) were superior. I have the three symphonies composed by Furtwängler, all modern day recordings. I took to Symphony #2 pretty quickly, I’m still working my way through the others.

It took me awhile to appreciate Toscanini due to the intensity and drive he applied to his symphonies. I was put off initially by his interpretation of Beethoven, preferring Walter and early Karajan’s style. But now I become transfixed by his mastery of the composition and that of his orchestra. His Beethoven and Brahms have a brilliant Germanic style.


BTW, Klemperer should be included in your list.


I have lots of multiple recordings of standard repertoire on the shelves, but the conductor I usually turn to is Bruno Walter. Solti, Bernard Haitink and Neville Marriner get more than their share of attention, as well.. A concert I saw with Herbie the K and the Berlin Phil is still the best live performance I've ever been to in any genre (sorry Mr. Springsteen), but when it comes to classical music I'm just a straight-ahead guy..

Wilhelm Furtwangler and Sir John Barbirolli, without a doubt. Following those, Klemperer, Walter, Toscanini, and Celibidache.

Fritz Reiner for some things, Leonard Bernstein and Adrian Boult for others. @mahler123: Is Georg Solti ineligible? Most of my fave Baroque conductors are still active.

@bdp24 Hey -- I love Sir Adrian. And Lenny is quickly rising up the charts for me, not the least because, via Qobuz & Idagio at least, his New York Phil recordings are sounding spacious, balanced and pretty wonderful..

I had in mind Conductors who worked in the pre stereo era when I made the thread, but that is a weird cut off point, because many of the greats of previous generations worked so long that they straddled both eras.  And I didn’t mean it to be comprehensive either, just thought those three would kick off a discussion.

I actually have seen Solti and Bernstein in concert, formative events in my listening history.  I remember seeing Barbirolli and Klemperer on TV.  So they all seem less remote than someone like Furtwangler or Mengelberg.

  Interpret the rules as you wish!


The big Bruno Walter box has really boosted my love for him.  I remember those recordings being available on the execrable vinyl of Columbia Budget label.  Hearing them freshly scrubbed is a revelation.


we should also add Szell, Ormandy, and Koussevitsky to the list

For audiophiles, Fritz Reiner stands out from most of the "historical" conductors, whose recorded sound is often not the best. Reiner had the "serious" temperament of the 19th century-born Europeans, and lead the CSO in a rather "severe" manner. The results were very "muscular" sounding performances, which I like.

But what makes his recordings of particular interest to audiophiles is their sound quality. His RCA Living Presence LP’s (and CD reissues) are legendary for both performance and sq. The 1950’s "shaded dog" LP’s are not too hard to find (they sold well in the 50’s and 60’s), even in pretty good shape. After Harry Pearson and the writers at his Absolute Sound mag started touting their quality in the 1970’s, their price skyrocketed dramatically. Chesky started reissuing them on LP in the late-80/90’s, followed by Classic Records in the 2000’s. Look for the originals in your bin digging, they’re great!

I think that each great conductors and they are MANY, must be judged in some precise work from some composer...One by one...

Then there is no greatest...

But if you torture me to name one i will side with Valery Gergiev opinion and Ernest Ansermet opinion two great maestros in their own way ...

Furtwangler never directed symphonies with an EXTERNAL beat but with an INTERNAL pulse emerging spontaneously with the music itself... Valery Gergiev explain it well...

«Valery Gergiev: The most difficult thing in conducting is to avoid a mechanical beat. This endless search for a true tempo, the right tempo for every bar of music, and not just a single tempo for the whole movement, is something few conductors ever master. Few leaders will recognize, perhaps, that it is something difficult for them, but they will try to do it and compete with Furtwängler, and most likely they will fail.»

This also explain why some improvising jazz musicians are so great, or like the african youruba talking drummers, or the singing of the pygmies, they are not handicapped by the burden of INTERPRETATING with the right beat and an EXTEERNAL timing written music and more easily access to this spontaneous INTERNAL pulsating beat which emerge in each parts of the improvised unwritten music ...

it is the reason why TIME ITSELF OBEY MUSIC AND MUSIC DONT OBEY TIME BUT COMMAND IT ...It is evident with Furtwangler more than with most other maestros in written music...His interpretation is more like in jazz an irrepressible spontaneous SURGE...

By the way more than pure technical abilities it is the same for piano playing, you cannot master Lizst and Scriabin without mastering the timing flow of the music parts...it must be an internal timing coming from the music itself... most people compare pianist for their CLEAN sound or pyrotechnical ability, but it is the art of time coming from the music itself the supreme rule...



The fact that music command time is a mathematical discovery coming from Alain Connes works in non commutative geometry and his interpretation of the Zeta function related to quantum mechanic hilbert space operators algebras...very important and astounding work describing a source of variation deeper than time itself ... Music is example of this...


Listen to this interpretation where music command time , this pianist play like Furtwangler direct, none of them impose a tempo on the music but let the tempo surging from the music itself :


 If you have doubts about this pianist look what Schoenberg himself wrote and contradict him if you dare... 


Arnold Schoenberg wrote the following about Ervin Nyiregyházi: "...a pianist who appears to be something really quite extraordinary... I must say that I have never heard such a pianist before... What he plays is expression in the older sense of the word, nothing else; but such power of expression I have never heard before. You will disagree with his tempis as much as I did. You will also note that he often seems to give primacy to sharp contrasts at the expense of form, the latter appearing to get lost. I say appearing to; for then, in its own way, his music surprisingly regains its form, makes sense, establishes its own boundaries. The sound he brings out of the piano is unheard of... And such fullness of tone, achieved without ever becoming rough, I have never before encountered... as a whole it displays incredible novelty and persuasiveness. ...it is amazing what he plays and how he plays it".

When Schoenberg say here he is tempted to disagree at first with his tempi choices , he say in reality that the tempi used by E.N. are IMPREVISIBLE ONE born from the flowing of the music itself under his fingers like in an IMPROVISATION and they are a very convincing musical event at the end...

MUSIC COMMAND TIME not the reverse....


For me music is the oscillation of time, life is a crystal which  had learned to  master time with his own music...

A great conductor suppress the dictature of time upon us and deliver us with music...

Guido Cantelli-protege of Toscanini who.died tragically in a plane crash in 1956. Toscanini wasn't told about it since he was frail at the time. Cantelli did make several recordings.

Erich and Carlos Kleiber-father and son, both gone now.  Carlos' recordings have better sound. He didn't record a lot but his recordings of Beethoven's symphonies  5 and 7 are among the best. 

Very interesting choices.... Thanks...

Guido Cantelli-protege of Toscanini who.died tragically in a plane crash in 1956. Toscanini wasn't told about it since he was frail at the time. Cantelli did make several recordings.

Erich and Carlos Kleiber-father and son, both gone now.  Carlos' recordings have better sound. He didn't record a lot but his recordings of Beethoven's symphonies  5 and 7 are among the best. 

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The tempo discussions by Mahgister are interesting.  I heard Ricardo Muti give a talk from the podium that must of have gone about 15 minutes before the start of a work where he essentially makes the same points.  It was difficult to understand him in the large concert hall, in his mixture of Italian and English and I remember thinking wouldn’t it be great to hear him give a master class in conducting and perhaps use a few examples.

  I have heard many people look at film of Furtwangler conducting, critique his beat as imprecise and approximate at best, and wonder how he achieved his results, with his supple ebb and flow.  He had to be the antithesis of George Szell, about whom his players would say “Even the spontaneity is rehearsed” yet Szell was reportedly a huge admirer of both Furtwangler and Toscanini.

Willem  Mangelberg?

I have only heard a few examples of him—Ein Heldenleben with the NYP and an Eroica with Amsterdam.  The Eroica sounded like a little crystal meth may be been injected into proceedings.

There is a good selection of Cantelli , both studio recordings and live concerts, on the Pristine Audio site. I particularly like the concert version of Stravinsky Chant of the Nightengale

Mengelberg is an interesting choice!  I recall reading somewhere that Mengelberg thought he could just make changes to Beethoven's scores because, after all, Beethoven was deaf, not to mention dead, and who would know better what would work than the conductor himself!  

My choice would be Furtwangler.  Just this morning we listened to his wartime live Bruckner 9th.  It is driven, ferocious, and transcendent.

I’ll add George Szell into the mix.

Boulez as well, but may be too new for ‘historical’…still one of my favs.

Maazel too


Knappertsbusch, Klemperer, Szell. All concert masters at heart and really understanding how orchestras get ‘in the groove’

Most of my earliest record were Szell and Cleveland.  $2.75 each at the Michigan Student union in Ann Arbor.  I imbibed the Beethoven PCs, Symphonies , most of the great Richard Strauss works, the great Dvorak Symphonies.  I never cared much for his Brahms, though.

  Kna?  those slow tempos always kind of stopped me at the gate, but some of his Wagner is pretty transcendent.  Hitler is reputed to have detested Kina so that is a recommendation of sorts.

  Boulez and Maazel were great Conductors, well represented in my collection.  Since all their work is from the stereo era, and they haven't been passed that long, they don't seem to be historical figures to me, but depending on where someone is on the generational scale, they may appear to be Historical.

…and then there is Celibidache. Few recordings but if you’ve heard him live you’ll remember


most are though live performances and he didn’t like them in his lifetime

My understanding is that he authorized them to be released after he died, so presumably he thought they had some merit?

Best I know he left the decision to his wife and son, he himself called LPs ‘pancakes’ all his life

His whole point was that music dependends on the acoustics of the venue which inter alia defines the tempo of individual movements and that could neither be captured nore rendered by recording. Quite the Anti Audiophile, him. He was deeply into Zen Buddhism and believed in living in the moment to create musical fulfillment. Listening to him live was special.

  I know about Celi and his Zen Buddhism.  Still, he had the power to guarantee in his will not to have recordings distributed after his death, instead of delegating that 

decision to others.  So my premise is that on some level he must of have cared, and wanted his performances disseminated, while simultaneously making a show of not caring.

  Personally I can live without  Celi.  For my money he simply stretches and distorts the music until the line is unrecognizable.   ymmv

It’s a little difficult for me to separate the conductor from the orchestra. Of the three choices listed by the OP I’d have to choose Furtwangler with the Vienna or Berlin. One of my all time favorites not previously mentioned is Eduard Van Beinum and the Royal Concertgebouw.

@lowrider57 Here's a nice Furtwängler box set of the Vienna at the Salzburg Festival. The recordings were cleaned up. I own it and will say that it's nice being able to hear him in live performance.




Most of Furtwangler recordings are live concerts.  He hated the studio and made relatively few recordings there relative to Stokowski and Toscanini, to cite two contemporaries of equal stature.

 Van Beinum left few recordings, probably because he died relatively young

@mahler123 I remember a number of RCA and DG studio recordings of Furtwängler. Also, Warner released the complete studio recordings and it's a 55 CD box set. I'm thinking that would include the RIAS recordings. Anyway, that seems like a good amount to me. I'm unsure as to how many live recordings there are, I was thinking not a lot. I only know of the Salzburg Festival. the Lucerne Festival and a number of radio broadcasts. I don't know anything about the Music & Arts releases.

Yes, I realize there aren't a lot of van Beinum releases. The Andante label issued a van Beinum set which very good. So what van Beinum RC recordings do you recommend?

I have the Warner box. I am not saying that W.F. didn’t make studio rcordings, he made plenty of them, but most of the available recordings are either concerts or Radio Broadcasts. W.F. studio recordings are generally felt to be inferior as performances to his live concert recordings or Radio broadcasts. One of my favorite Furtwangler recordings is Bruckner Eight with the VPO from late 1944. I believe that there are at least two recordings from different days. One is the actual Radio Broadcast made with a very small audience, probably a few Nazi bigwigs, the day before the actual concert, which I believe was also recorded and subsequently both have found their way to CD. I have the one that is sans large audience and it is the most thrilling Bruckner 8 out there, and it really sounds good for that vintage.  btw, the Furtwangler set to have is the DG SACD set, if you can find it.


Van Beinum--I haven’t listened to any of his recordings (except the odd bits that come on the radio) since the lp days. I believe the Eloquence Label put out a good collection recently



@goofyfoot , thanks. I found it on Qobuz and it does sound very good. Listening to his Brahms no.4 right now. I have the Music & Arts Beethoven and the Bruckner, both live. I believe some of these early recordings needed to be restored so not the best quality, but historically important.

@lowrider57 Yeah, I can recommend the d'Orfeo label in general. I was at the record store today and we were talking about the lawsuit against MOFI. The context of the discussion centered around whether all analogue remastering is actually superior to having digital somewhere in the chain and we both agreed that digital technology is a massive asset. In other words, I'm so glad that recordings from that era are now as good as they are. Also, I'm surprised that the d'Orfeo label is on Qobuz! I'm going to switch from Tidal to Qobuz.

@lowrider57 Forgot to mention, I know of some of the Music & Arts releases but not many. I own the Lili Kraus Mozart Solo Piano Box Set and it is superb.


I have the Music and Arts Brahms Furtwangler set.  Great stuff.  The Second is the most fascinating, if only because we now know that W.F. was slated for execution by the Gestapo after the performance.  Tipped off, possibly by Albert Speer, he escaped while taking his bows during the applause, which M&A preserves…one can hear the puzzlement of the clappers as he doesn’t reappear.


I'm a big fan of Brahms no. 2, but apparently the performance isn't the whole story on this disc. Thank you for adding the historical details of that night. I didn't know about this. I'll read more about it online. 

Furtwängler was walking a tightrope throughout the Nazi's reign of terror.

For anyone interested, I just came upon this High Definition Tape Transfers website. The reviews are good and there are a fair number of classical and jazz recordings available. Here's the Furtwängler page. https://www.highdeftapetransfers.ca/collections/wilhelm-furtwangler-collection


Nice find. This looks very interesting. I'd like to see (hear) if they were able to improve the dry, lean DG recordings.

I wonder if they're paying for the rights to sell copyrighted material. 

@lowrider57 They're located in Canada so I'd suspect they'd been obligated to pay out royalties. However copyright laws only extend to about fifty years (at least with artwork). As far as DG recordings, I would be a skeptic but who knows? It always seemed odd to me that the Archive Production (a division of DG) pressings were superior to the DG pressings.

I'm looking at buying a DSD download of Bill Evans' 'Waltz for Debbie" and if I like that, then possibly Szell/Strauss. If you order something, then please share your opinion of the quality. You can always reach me direct too. Cheers.


Yes, the subject of Furtwangler’s involvement with the Nazis has been examined thoroughly and could be a thread in itself. Do you remember The Sound Of Music and how the Von Trapp family escapes Austria after the Anschlus? The real story of their escape is less prosaic but it appears as if the book for the Play/Movie borrowed a few details from Furtwangler’s bio.

I listened to Pristine Audio’s transfer of the wartime Furtwangler Brahms 4 last night.  I think it may be from the same source as Music and Arts, as their is a fair amount of noise, like a generator hum, at the beginning that goes away about two minutes in.  I’m guessing the first acetate must of have been compromised but the rest were better.  The Germans were experimenting with the tape but I don’t know the origin of this recording and Pristine, contrary to their usual practice, doesn’t mention the original source.

I contacted High Def Tape Transfers for some info. There are a few options for download; DSD, DXD FLAC, PCM FLAC.

Since I no longer have a computer audio setup, I asked about discs. They stopped selling Hires DVD, I doubt there was much demand. Gold Redbook CDs are the highest quality discs from the master ($25). Next, they have what is referred to as "budget CD" ($8.99).

I like that they publish details of the original recordings; ie, Szell Mahler:

Source used for Transfer: Transferred from a Columbia 4-track Tape
Recorded October 1 and 2, 1965 at Severance Hall, Cleveland, Ohio



I listened to the Pristine version of Furtwängler's Beethoven no. 3 (1944) and the sound is astonishing. Going from memory, it sounds way better than Music & Arts. I assume they're the same performance. Do u know if the rest of this cycle sounds this good?

It's pricey, maybe I can find a used CD.



Here's an excerpt from the review on the above link:

Compared to the Music & Arts remastering that colleague Henry Fogel reviewed in 18:3, the sound here is far more natural—the frequency and dynamic ranges are opened up, and an annoying rippling sound in the background has been totally removed.






I have the M&A  1944 Eroica.  This was actually my first introduction to B3, albeit on a budget lp that my older sister bought in 1972.  That recording imprinted me; every other recording of the piece has never seemed as Life and Death as this one.

  I did play a bit of the M&A after the last time that I listened to Pristine, and the differences weren't as significant as I thought they would be.  The Pristine is preferable but I think the Fanfare reviews the Pristine regularly uses on their website doth protest a bit to much.

  I actually bought the Pristine Digital Collection, and subscribe to the streaming service.  If you do the latter then you get free downloads.  The only problem with the streaming service is it doesn't work with most of the players that play Qobuz,Tidal, etc.  You either need a computer or listen from a mobile device on the Pristine site.  I use Chromecast from my phone to my Cambridge Audio streamer.

At any rate if you do the streaming service and download from their site once a month you basically have it for free, and there are enough recordings on the PA site to make it worthwhile, imo.


   Speaking of Pristine Audio and wartime recordings from the Third Reich, I listened to the Walter Gieseking Beethoven Emperor recording from 1944 that was made in stereo.  I had heard it previously when it was released, and aural memory is unreliable but the Pristine recording sounds amazing.  btw there is a brief audible burst of antiaircraft fire