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Brian Couzens

01 May 2015

Classical legend: Brian Couzens

Classical legend: Brian Couzens

Roderick Dunnett writes:

BRIAN COUZENS, who died on 17 April, aged 82, after a short illness, was deservedly one of the legends of the classical-music recording business. In scarcely a decade, starting in 1979, Couzens began his British-based independent recording company Chandos Records; within a decade it was rivalling, and, in many respects, especially sound quality, excelling the international recording giants.

While Couzens recorded many of the staples of the musical and orchestral literature, he was renowned from the outset for his courage in embracing a less familiar repertoire. He brought a wealth of little-known music, including rare gems of choral works (his first recording was of Ernest Bloch's Sacred Service) and striking film music to the attention of performers and collectors.

One of his many inventive ideas was to join with the philanthropist, opera lover, and art collector Sir Peter Moores, to produce an award-winning series of opera in English.

Couzens built up a superlative team of loyal performers, both singers and instrumentalists, with which to commit this material to disc. Three of his most significant, enduring associates were Richard Hickox, who made 280 recordings for the label, Sir Charles Mackerras, and the Estonian conductor Neeme Järvi.

Couzens' interest in music began in his school days, and he spent long hours watching the work of recording engineers. A trombonist in dance bands, on completing National Service he became an arranger of dance music, notably for the BBC. His talents were spotted by the film composer Ron Goodwin, with whom he worked for ten years, and he soon became a gifted film music arranger and orchestrator celebrated for Where Eagles Dare and Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines, among others.

He worked for a period for RCA, and occasionally EMI. Here the foundations of his recording passion were laid. Yet none then would have foreseen the entrepreneurial skill and acute musical judgment that enabled him to build Chandos into one of the most enterprising companies in the classical-music world.

Starting with a fine roster of neglected British composers, such as Moeran, Bax, Bliss, Alwyn, Leighton, and Rubbra, Couzens moved on by stages to establish daring new series such as the Polish composers Lutoslawski and Szymanowski. He was aided by his technically gifted son Ralph - responsible for much of Chandos's superb engineering, and who, in 2004, took over the running of the company.

One of the masterpieces Couzens unveiled was The Book with Seven Seals by the Austrian composer Franz Schmidt, which was conducted for Chandos by Järvi's younger son Kristjan. Further triumphs were the recordings of rare Baroque music, overseen by the conductor Matthias Bamert. Recently, under Edward Gardner, they have made Mendelssohn their own.

Although the digital CD has triumphed, Brian and Ralph Couzens openly expressed their fondness for the analogue method used in making LPs. None the less, thousands of recordings and many Gramophone Awards later, Brian Couzens's marvellous legacy now rests on the digital CD. He is a serious loss, but it is heartening that his son should continue Chandos's unique, magnificent tradition.

Brian received an honorary doctorate from the University of East Anglia in 2008 and a Gramophone special achievement award in 2010.

"My philosophy," he said, "has always been to produce beautiful recordings that people wanted to hear." In that, he could not have been more successful.

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