Francis Wilson, founder of the London-based Olympia label, on which much rare Russian repertoire got its first commercial release in the West, died last Monday.
In 1986, Wilson, with his passion for Russian music and his multi-lingual skills, had managed to obtain a licence from Mezhkniga, the Soviet foreign trade company, to reissue recordings from the Soviet state label Melodiya in the UK and Western European market. Melodiya was at that time the only internationally renowned record company not yet releasing CDs.
Recordings by famous Soviet artists such as pianists Emil Gilels, Sviatoslav Richter, conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky and the early recordings of Mikhail Pletnev appeared on the label. Soon, however, Olympia became a recording force in its own right, recording pianist Murray MacLachlan in several discs including the complete sonatas by Prokofiev and Myaskovsky, the pianist Peter Katin and the series 400 years of Dutch music with the Dutch Residence Orchestra.
Wilson’s passion for Soviet music and players – he championed lesser-known composers including Mikhail Nosryev and Giya Kancheli, and players including pianist Nikolai Petrov – was matched only by his dismissive contempt for ‘mainstream German repertory’.
One of the label’s final and most prestigious projects was to release Yevgeny Svetlanov’s cycle of Myaskovsky’s complete symphonies.