We pay tribute to the founder of the Award-winning reissues label
We’re very sad to hear of the death of Stewart Brown, founder of the Testament Records reissue label, at age 69.
Brown launched the label in 1990 with a coupling of two of Adolf Busch’s Brahms performances, the Horn Trio with Aubrey Brain and the Clarinet Quintet with Reginald Kell and the Busch Quartet. It went on to offer collectors a catalogue of extraordinary riches, featuring fascinating historic recordings which now form a core part of our understanding and appreciation of the past century of music-making.
Notable projects include reissues of the Hollywood Quartet - a Schubert and Schoenberg pairing won a Gramophone Awards in 1994; the concertos of Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven and Bruch from violinist Ida Haendel, with whom Brown also then made a new recording of the complete Bach sonatas and partitas for solo violin; a series of early and previously forgotten recordings by the conductor Günter Wand; and a recording of Strauss's Four Last Songs and Wagner arias from Kirsten Flagstad and Wilhelm Fürtwangler too from 2007.
Two particularly remarkable projects were both Bayreuth-related. A further Gramophone Award came in 2000 for Testament’s issue of the 1951 Götterdämmerung conducted by Hans Knappertsbusch, made at the Festival by the Decca team of John Culshaw and Kenneth Wilkinson while experimenting with new microphones and recording techniques. It had taken Brown two years to negotiate the rights for release, and James Jolly described it as ‘a truly special achievement’.
This was followed by another Decca-made but unissued recording from Bayreuth, the 1955 Ring cycle conducted by Joseph Keilberth. Tully Potter well captures the significance of this, as well as Brown’s commitment to doing the release (indeed, any release) full justice, writing: ‘It is probably still the Ring to have if you want to experience the music at its best. I know how much it cost Stewart in sheer effort and patience to clear all the rights; and the final product was typical of his attention to detail, with full explanatory notes and libretto – in German and English – in the chunky booklet for each instalment.’
In fact it’s that devotion that defines Testament for all who value historic recordings. The affection Brown had for his label, and that collectors had for his commitment to making available superb gems from the history of recording, beautifully remastered and presented, is touchingly demonstrated by the fact that when it is mentioned in Gramophone's pages, it's so often preceded by its founder’s name, rightly described as 'Stewart Brown's Testament'.