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Charles AVISON (1709-1770)
CD1 [47:21]
Six Sonatas for two violins and a bass, Op. 1 (c.1737): No. 1 in chromatic Dorian mode [8:35]; No. 2 in G minor [10:23]; No. 3 in G minor [6:29]; No. 4 in Dorian mode [8:15]; No. 5 in E minor [6:32]; No. 6 in D major [6:20]
CD2 [49:48]
Six Sonatas for harpsichord, with accompaniments for two violins and a violoncello, Op. 8 (1764): No. 1 in A major [8:20]; No. 2 in C major [9:06]; No. 3 in D major [8:33]; No. 4 in B flat major [7:28]; No. 5 in G minor [8:10]; No. 6 in G major [7:32]
The Avison Ensemble (Robert Howarth (harpsichord/chest organ); Pavlo Beznosiuk (violin); Caroline Balding (violin); Richard Tunnicliffe (cello))
rec. Paxton House, Berwick upon Tweed, 11-14 December 2005. DDD.
2 CDs for price of one
Divine Art dda21214 [47:21 + 49:48]
Experience Classicsonline
 

 

The Avison Ensemble continue to do proud the composer whose name they bear. Having recorded his Opp. 3 and 4 (Naxos 8.557905-6 – see review) and Op.6 Concertos (Naxos 8.557553-4 – see Jonathan Woolf’s review and Johan van Veen’s review), Concerti after Geminiani (Divine Art DDA21210 – see review), the Op.9 and Op.10 Concerti Grossi (DDA21211) and his Concerti Grossi after D Scarlatti (DDA21213), they now turn their attention to the Op.1 Trio Sonatas and the Op.8 Keyboard Sonatas with accompaniments. I’m on record as offering high praise to DDA21211 – see review – and DDA21213 – see review – and Jonathan Woolf was also lavish in his praise for DDA21213 – see review.

You’ll also find an appreciation of their performances of the cello concertos of Avison’s contemporary, John Garth (DDA25059) in my October, 2008, Download Roundup. All these Divine Art 2-CD sets are currently offered as 2-for-1 and are available as very acceptable 320k mp3 downloads from theclassicalshop.net for £4.99 per CD. The two Naxos sets are available as downloads from classicsonline.com, also at 320k, for £9.98 per 2-CD set, and from other download sites at varying bit-rates. I can vouch personally for the quality of the Garth download from theclassicalshop and of the Op.6 Concertos from classicsonline – in both cases, the downloads come with the CD booklet as a pdf document.

The works on the new set may not reach quite the heights of the Concertos after Geminiani and Scarlatti – go for those two sets first – but they are by no means negligible: unfailingly tuneful and well-constructed. The Op.1 pieces may well have had their origin as exercises when Avison was being tutored by Geminiani; if so, they are the work of a very competent and inspired pupil, by no means a slavish imitator of his mentor. Even when he adapted the keyboard works of Geminiani and Scarlatti, Avison did much more than merely orchestrate their music, just as Geminiani had done in orchestrating the music of his own mentor, Corelli.

The Op.1 Sonatas are advertised on their title page (reproduced in the well-documented Divine Art booklet) as ‘for two violins and a bass’. This makes them, in effect, Trio Sonatas in the manner of Corelli – indeed, they all follow the four-movement pattern of Corelli’s Sonate da chiesa, slow-fast-slow-fast, though it is unlikely that they were intended for church performance. The ‘bass’ is performed here on the cello and chest organ, making for a very full sound. I’m on record as preferring the cleaner sound of violin and harpsichord, without cello, in Corelli’s Op.5 Sonatas (Naxos 8.557799 – see review) but the fuller sound works well in Avison’s Op.1, making the music sound much closer to the Concerti Grossi on the Ensemble’s other recordings.

The Op.1 Sonatas are in a form transmitted from Corelli via Geminiani. By the date of the Op.8 Sonatas, however, the music of Rameau was becoming influential in England and Avison specifically mentions ‘Scarlatti, Rameau and Carlo-Bach’ (i.e. CPE Bach) alongside Geminiani in his ‘Advertisement’ for the set. The notes in the booklet very reasonably speculate that Avison knew Rameau’s Pièces de clavecin en concerts: he certainly praises the French composer for his ‘spirited Science’. Once again, however, whatever the degree of Rameau’s influence, Avison is no slavish imitator. I hear the influence of Scarlatti and, perhaps, even a foretaste of Boccherini in Sonata No.3 (trs.6-7).

The title page of Op.8 (again, reproduced in the booklet) described the works as ‘for the harpsichord with accompanyments for two violins and a violoncello’ and he specified that the string parts ‘being intended for Assistants only ... ought no where to overpower the Harpsichord.’ This brings me to my one reservation concerning the new recording. Whatever Avison’s intentions – reinforced by the fact that the harpsichord part is capable of being performed alone – the ‘Assistant’ strings do sometimes prove intrusive on the recording. This may well be an inherent problem in the music itself rather than one to be laid at the door of the performers or the engineers. Without suggesting that multi-miking or other trickery should have been employed, I should have thought it possible for the harpsichord part to be brought out more fully on a recording.

It’s a minor criticism and it didn’t spoil my enjoyment unduly. Otherwise I have nothing but praise for everything on these CDs. Music, performance and recording – preferably with a slight volume reduction from your normal setting – all contribute to a most enjoyable experience and the booklet is a model of its kind. As on the earlier recordings, there are no rough edges to the sound of the period instruments employed; this is early music without tears. I look forward now to the appearance of the Op.5 and Op.7 sonatas.
 
Brian Wilson
 


 


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