With each new release of Charles Avison’s music something
is becoming clearer; his standing as a composer is significantly
higher than might be supposed. Partly this is historical; he
composed when the country’s music-making was dominated
by Handel, and partly geographical, since he lived in Newcastle.
It’s true that his position as a composer was unchallenged
in the North-East, but that cut little ice with the Metropolitan
elite in London, and the paucity of recordings, until very recently,
reflected his ‘backwater’ status.
Fortunately recordings such as this and others have begun to
show just how adaptable, personable, imaginative and clever
is his writing. His accompanied keyboard sonatas are in three
sets. Op.5 was published in 1756, followed by op.7 in 1760 and
op.8 four years later. In this two disc set we hear opp. 5 and
7. Avison was an eloquent admirer of his contemporaries and
forebears, taking pains in his advertisement for the op.8 set
to cite Scarlatti, Rameau, Geminiani and C.P.E. Bach by name.
His opinion of Handel was not unmixed. The genesis for this
kind of work was a compound of Corellian procedure and Rameau’s
1741 Pièces de Clavecin. The cleverness of Avison lies
in his accommodation of both forms, and in his ability successfully
to utilise them to his own devices. The sonatas were not intended
for public performance, but rather for ‘private amusement’.
The keyboard part is complete in and of itself (so an amateur
could play the part on his own), the string writing acting as
a supporting fabric to the harpsichord. There are no solo flourishes
from the strings.
The op. 5 set consists of six multi-movement works, some four,
some two, and one in three movements. All are compact and full
of lively music making. Maybe there are hints of a Scotch Snap
in the opening of the First, in G major. What’s undeniable
is the fecundity of invention, the warm textures of the Minuet,
the lightly contoured cello drone in the Allegretto finale and
ensuing folkloric inflexions. Not only is Avison’s writing
broad-minded and full of thematic interest, but the performances
by Gary Cooper and his eminent cohorts fully worthy of it; the
combination is outstanding in every way. Avison has a real sense
of character and sometimes quirkiness. The second movement of
the two-movement second sonata is the more unpredictable and
original and keeps one on one’s aural toes throughout.
It’s very cleverly composed, very fluid thematically,
and passing Handelian moments - or moments that seem Handelian
maybe in retrospect - only add to the mélange. The Andante
of the Third has the lyric qualities of a John Stanley, whilst
the Siciliana of the Fourth flows as sweetly as a fresh stream.
The performers all catch the brisk articulation of the following
Aria - spiritoso, as marked.
In 1760 the op.7 collection was published. Apart from the fifth,
which is in three movements, all the others are written in two.
The presto opening of the second has an almost operatic intensity,
but also compression. There’s decorative melancholy in
the opening of the third whilst the opening of the fourth is
more explicitly expressive, in a way that begs the question
as to whether Avison wrote oratorios? The finale of this sonata
is theatrical and fulsome, the Ciacone of the sixth sprightly
Recording quality (first class), performances and music come
together in a wholly splendid way in this disc, one which advances
Avison’s cause still further.
Reviews of other Avison recordings on Divine Art
DDA21210 Concerti grosso (after Geminiani) - review
DDA21211 Concerti grosso op. 9, 10 - review
DDA21213 Concerti grosso (after Scarlatti) - review
DDA21214 Sonatas op.8 - review