Sad news: Classical label founder has died

Sad news: Classical label founder has died


norman lebrecht

April 17, 2015

We regret to report the death today of Brian Couzens, founder of the Chandos label. He was 82.

From an inauspicious base in Colchester, Essex, starting in 1979, he launched numerous international conducting careers – Mariss Jansons, Neeme Järvi, Jiri Belohlavek, Edward Gardner, Gianandrea Noseda and many more.

His repertoire tastes were broad and adventurous. Arvo Pärt and Mieczyslaw Weinberg made early appearances on Chandos, along with much neglected English music.

Uninterested in personal glory, Brian left the label in the capable hands of his son, Ralph. Our respects to his memory and sympathies to the family. Many artists will feel sad tonight.


UPDATE: How Brian Couzens twice saved the record business here.


Brian Couzens (l.) with Sir Charles Mackerras and son, Ralph.


  • Ks. Cristopher Robson says:

    A sad loss indeed. I met Brian a few times back in the 80s & 90s. A really nice man, who ran for many years one of the best independent recording companies in the world. It’s great that Ralph has carried on the great Chandos traditions that his father stood for, not least the Impeccably high recording quality and production standards that are a trademark of the label.
    RIP Brian Couzens. You won’t be forgotten. Felicitations and condolences to Ralph, all the family, and all at Chandos.

  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    So sorry to hear. Ralph will carry on in his father’s tradition.

  • Ilio says:

    RIP. His label is one that always had something of interest from early on.

  • Geoffrey Terry says:

    I was saddened by the news of the death of Brian Couzens particularly because it followed so shortly after the loss of the unique Peter Katin.

    My name is Geoffrey Terry, I am the founder of Orchestral Concert CDs and am myself in my eightieth year; obviously with such a limited life expectancy I would prefer to provide my own story before it also becomes obituary.

    In 2008 I began publishing a private collection of recordings I made during the 1960s and 70s, when I had the great pleasure of accompanying orchestras from eastern Europe during their tours of the UK. I am a recording engineer.

    By way of credentials permit me to refer you to the ‘Reviews’ page of my website:
    If you had the patience to read through the rather extraordinary collection of comments, which make me very proud, you might arrive at the point where OCCDs was awarded the prize for Best Historic Recording by the German Records Critics Association. The jury commented, (“Wanda Wiłkomirska presents herself here as one of the great storytellers on the violin. She plays one of the most important concertos of the 20th Century, and the recording technique is sensational. An unrepeatable constellation.”
    —Wolfgang Wendel, German Record Critics’ Award (Quarterly Critics’ Choice for Q4 2012 in the Historical Recordings category), 5th November 2012
    I have the great help of my dear friend Richard Hallas, who deals with all matters related to the website and CD presentation, otherwise the entire operation has been my daily commitment.
    I have published a total of fourteen CDs, which culminated with a recording from the Royal Festival hall of the Shostakovich 10th symphony, the performance and recording have received outstandingly high praise which is partly attributable to the technique I employed in the recording – technique of my own design.
    You can read about it here:
    Since that last release I have been through a very difficult period, not least of which being the bankruptcy of my world distributor in Holland, T2 Entertainment. I lost a great deal of money and more than 1.000 CDs as a result and two valuable years of visibility in the industry.
    Because my lifetime devotion to music, (performer, artist agent, recording engineer and finally CD publisher), has been subsidised by my other commercial activities, a Hi-Fi business in the 60s and 70s for example, I can no longer afford to publisher any more CDs, my pension has already been squeezed.
    I have had no support whatever from Gramophone Magazine or the BBC and without funds to advertise, I have been obliged to devote virtually all my waking hours in an endeavor to ‘spread the word’.
    I am currently running a Kickstarter project in the hope of raising funds to produce four new CDs:
    1. Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra with Witold Rowicki. 2. An ancient music group, also from Warsaw. 3. The last London concert by the great Alfredo Campoli and a recording he wished to have made in the Parish Church of Little Missenden, which comprises four sonatas.
    These recordings, along with just a few more that I have enjoyed for the past forty years will be lost forever if the Kickstarter project fails. Unfortunately the response has been very poor, almost certainly because I have not utilised the facilities of Facebook and Twitter, which I understand are essential elements for such an endeavor.
    Here is a link to the Kickstarter page:
    If I may I will take this opportunity to copy below a few of the comments received for the

    “I’ve heard the [OCCDs Shostakovich] 10th several times, and agree that it’s exceptional; better than any others I’ve heard. (I believe that the first time I bought it on LP was on DG with Karajan, which was exciting, but nothing like yours.)”
    —Joel Flegler (publisher and editor of Fanfare), private correspondence, 30th December 2009

    “The Royal Festival Hall is a notoriously unforgiving acoustic which especially at this time had a problematic, dry clarity. Nevertheless with canny and practised microphone placement this recording captures fidelity without undue spotlighting. It also captures the full complement of strings that the Prague orchestra took with them.”

    “This fine performance, extremely well captured in sound, is a most worthwhile addition to the discography of the Tenth.”
    —Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International, March 2012

    “Smetáček was a fine conductor and here he shows an outstanding grasp of the long symphonic span of the first movement and a gripping, frenetic kind of urgency when it’s called for elsewhere. The orchestra plays with tremendous clarity and attack (as well as taut discipline) and the result is an account that deserves a very warm recommendation. The sound is particularly clean … this is a remarkable performance.”
    —Nigel Simeone, International Record Review, June 2012.

    “Imagine my surprise when, opening the booklet of this CD, I saw a blurb praising the disc from my editor and publisher, Joel Flegler! Flegler’s rave for this disc references the Karajan recording, which just happens to be the performance I own … So I made the inevitable A–B comparisons.”

    “[T]he rhythmic elements […]—like the sonorities—are crisper here than in Karajan’s hands … [W]hat is more interesting is the manner in which Smetáček plays the majority of the symphony, so that—thanks to the much greater transparency of texture—it is considerably lighter than Karajan without sacrificing a whit of Karajan’s emotion or energy. The sound quality on this 1968 live performance is […] clear, bright, and fresh…”

    “Bottom line: Karajan’s version is now out of my collection and Smetáček’s is now in. This one is truly a gem.”
    —Lynn René Bayley, Fanfare, 36:2, November/December 2012

    “[This is] the most riveting, satisfying and moving performance of this great symphony I’ve ever heard. I’ve played it over and over again in the months since I bought it.”
    “Your production and engineering on the Shostakovich strike me as things of wonder, with your superb skills placed completely at the service of the music.”
    “Many, many thanks for one of the greatest experiences in almost 50 years of listening to recordings of classical music.”
    —Bill Abbie, Edinburgh, private correspondence, 30th November 2012

    In closing this rather longer, than I intended, piece I repeat that my intention was initially to repress my condolences to the family of Brian Couzens and to make a case while I am still here. Incidentally I used exactly the same recording technique for all fourteen CDs.

    Geoffrey Terry

  • Robert Garbolinski says:

    Very sad, I made many recordings with him in charge (I sang in two choruses) – nice man, brilliant recordings.

  • Harold Wilkin says:

    Brian was a one of the recording industry’s true gentlemen and a great champion of British composers and their music. I got to know Brian and Ralph during their many visits to Belfast to record the Ulster Orchestra. I was present in the control room for all of the recordings and I witnessed Brian’s genius at work. The results we’re not only outstandingly lifelike concert hall sound, but also performances of great musical integrity. Brian was a visionary and a man of his word, He will be sorely missed by many.

  • Matt says:

    Very sad news. Mr. Couzens’s label introduced me to many composers/works/performers, and helped spark what will surely be a life-long love of classical music. I know that others were similarly effected, so that he has left quite a joyful legacy. My sympathies to the Couzens family.