Avisonís principal contribution to the record catalogue has
so far been his set of Concerti Grossi based on Scarlatti
harpsichord sonatas. Thereís more. In fact he wrote a considerable
amount of music and it is good to see that the Avison Ensemble
and Naxos are remedying the gap. They have already issued
Avisonís Op. 6 set of concerti grossi (see reviews by Jonathan
Woolf and Johan
van Veen) and here we have a recording of
his Opp. 3 and 4.
and brought up in Newcastle, Avison was initially taught
by his father, before moving to London to seek fame, fortune
and training at the age of fifteen. It was here that he probably
met and studied with Geminiani, who had moved to London in
1714. Avison returned to Newcastle in 1735 to assume the
post of organist at St. John the Baptistís Church. From 1736
until his death he was organist at the cityís most important
church, St. Nicholas. Avison instituted a series of subscription
concerts which were presumably a fertile ground for his own
life, Avison was a controversialist, proclaiming that the
music of his master Geminiani was far superior to that of
Handel. It was to Corelliís and Geminianiís models that Avison
turned when writing his own concerti grossi. Generally Avison
used the traditional four-movement slow-fast-slow-fast model.
But for his Opp. 3 and 4 concertos Avison was a little more
adventurous; he not only varies the number of movements but
his harmonies depart from the customary practices.
Op. 3 concertos were published in 1751 and the Op. 4 in 1755.
In the extensive preface to the Op. 3 concertos, Avison includes
information on performance practice, the number of instruments
needed to balance the concertino and ripieno groups and the
correct manner of playing the harpsichord.
the concertos are played by the Newcastle-based Avison Ensemble,
directed by Pavlo Beznosiuk. Beznosiuk and the other unnamed
soloists contribute some fine solo playing in the concertino
sections and are well supported by the main ensemble. They
play Avisonís music with crisp precision and lively bounce,
giving it an apposite stylishness.
ensemble sound a relatively small group; no numbers are given
in the CD booklet and the groupís web site was still under
construction at the time of writing. Whilst their string
sound does not have the luxuriousness of some other groups,
they play their chosen composer with wit and style. Their
devotion extends beyond playing though: in 2001 and 2002
the group acquired two of the composerís original work-books
thus enabling them to extend the Avison repertoire.
music on this disc does not have the inherent drama of Handelís
concerti grossi, but then Handel remained a dramatist no
matter what the genre. Avisonís have a more civilised elegance
about them and repay repeated listening. His music was enormously
popular during his lifetime and it is surprising that such
attractive pieces have been allowed to fall out of the repertoire.
When Avison has been recorded, it has almost invariably been
his concertos based on Scarlatti harpsichord sonatas, as
if ensembles did not trust him to have enough imaginative
invention in the pieces he created from scratch.
wrote over fifty orchestral concertos and The Avison Ensemble
have already recorded the Op. 6 concertos for Naxos. Given
the stylish performances here, I do hope that we can look
forward to more.