Charles AVISON (1709 - 1770) Trio Sonatas op. 1 and Keyboard Sonatas op. 8
Six Sonatas for Two Violins and a Bass, op. 1*:- Sonata No. 1 in chromatic Dorian mode [8:35] Sonata No. 2 in g minor [10:23] Sonata No. 3 in g minor [6:29] Sonata No. 4 in Dorian mode [8:15] Sonata No. 5 in e minor [6:32] Sonata No. 6 in D [6:20]
Six Sonatas for Harpsichord, with accompaniment for two violins
and a violoncello, op. 8:- Sonata No. 1 in A [8:20] Sonata No. 2 in C [9:06] Sonata No. 3 in D [8:33] Sonata No. 4 in B flat [7:28] Sonata No. 5 in g minor [8:10] Sonata No. 6 in G [7:32]
The Avison Ensemble (Pavlo Beznosiuk, Caroline Balding (violin),
Richard Tunnicliffe (cello), Robert Howarth (organ*, harpsichord))
rec. 11-14 December 2005, Paxton House, Berwick upon Tweed, UK.
DIVINE ART DDA21214 [47:21 + 49:48]
After many years of long neglect the oeuvre of Charles Avison
has recently been explored extensively. As a result the largest
part of his output is now available on disc. The Avison Ensemble
has played an important part in its rediscovery.
A look at the website of the ensemble (http://www.avisonensemble.com)
reveals that his complete concertos have been recorded. With
this disc two of his collections of chamber music are made available.
That leaves two other collections of six sonatas each, the opp.
5 and 7, which contain sonatas in the same scoring as the op.
8 on this set. In addition there is some vocal music, including
English adaptations of the 50 Psalms on Italian texts by Benedetto
Marcello. As these psalm settings are very expressive I am curious
to know how they sound in Avison's arrangements. It is to be
hoped that we will get to hear them at some time.
So what about the chamber music which is the subject of this
production? The two sets of sonatas are very different in character.
The op. 1 follows the model of the sonata da chiesa as
it was standardized by Arcangelo Corelli. Each is in four movements:
slow - fast - slow - fast. They are well written and show a
lot of variety. What makes them especially noteworthy is the
amount of expression to be heard in particular through harmonic
The first sonata begins with a very short and dark adagio, which
- after a general pause - is followed by an andante. The difference
is not as clear as one would wish, since the andante is a bit
too slow. The opening andante of the Sonata No. 2 is an example
of a movement with a lot of harmonic tension. In this sonata
it is also remarkable that the second movement - an allegro
- merges into the next without a break.
The adagio of the Sonata No. 3 contains some dissonances, and
is followed by a sparkling allegro with echo effects. The second
movement of the Sonata No. 4, in which there is frequent imitation
between the violins, is quite dramatic. Another dark-coloured
adagio opens the Sonata No. 5, whereas the second adagio is
full of harmonic tension. The closing allegro is dominated by
little dynamic accents.
This is a captivating collection of sonatas, which is given
outstanding and expressive performances. The ensemble is excellent,
and the balance between the instruments is just right. Two things
which seem to belong to the modern fashion in the performance
of baroque music are happily absent here. There is no continuous
shift from harpsichord to organ and vice versa in the
basso continuo, and there is no lute or theorbo in sight.
With the op. 8 set we move to another world. These sonatas are
modelled after the Pièces de clavecin en concert by Jean-Philippe
Rameau. The strings just emphasize and give colour to lines
of the keyboard part, but offer no original material. Accordingly
these sonatas can also be played on keyboard alone. In light
of this I think the balance is a little less than ideal. I would
have liked less presence from the strings. At some points they
are just a shade obtrusive.
These are nice pieces but not at the same level as those of
Rameau. They lack the wit and playfulness to be found in the
latter's Pièces. That said there is much to enjoy, even though
the character of the various sonatas isn't always done fullest
justice. The first movement of the Sonata No. 1 has the character
indication 'andante cantabile', but it doesn't sound very cantabile
to me. It is rather ponderous, mostly due to the heavy accents
in the keyboard part. This is much more appropriate in the first
movement of the Sonata No. 3, called 'marcia andante'.
The Sonata No. 2 is quite playful, but in the second allegro
it comes much more to the fore than in the opening allegro,
which is a bit too slow. The most sparkling movement of this
set is the presto from the Sonata No. 4 which is given a fine
performance in an appropriate tempo. The last piece is a set
of variations, a habit which was not uncommon at the time. Corelli,
for instance, closed his op. 5 - sonatas for violin and bc -
with a set of variations on La Folia. The theme of the
variations is very nice, and Avison has written beautiful variations
on this subject. The ending is quite surprising, but I am not
sure to what extent this was required by Avison or a dash of
artistic freedom from the performers. Don't worry, it is all
within the rules as far as I can tell.
Slight critical remarks aside this is an enjoyable set with
music which varies from expressive to entertaining. The Avison
Ensemble is once again an eloquent advocate of the oeuvre of
this master of the English baroque.
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