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Charles AVISON (1709-1770)
Concertos in Seven Parts done from Lessons by Domenico Scarlatti
Concerto No.6 in D major [13.05]
Concerto No.5 in D minor [10.46]
Concerto No.11 in G major [12.58]
Concerto No.3 in D minor [10.07]
Concerto No.9 in C major [12.34]
Concerto No.12 in D major [17.07]
Café Zimmermann
rec. Chapelle de l'Hôpital Notre-Dame du Bon Secours, Paris, September 2002
ALPHA CLASSICS 315 [76.37]

Charles Avison lived almost his entire life in Newcastle upon Tyne, spending a brief period in London during the early 1730s, but returning to his culturally vibrant home city in 1735. He was a very significant figure as a composer of 'grand concertos', producing several sets of concertos and of trio sonatas. Apart from the above set after Scarlatti he also composed a set of twelve concerti after Geminiani, who taught Avison in London. In case it should be supposed that Avison was a mere arranger of other people's music it should be stressed that, firstly, his own works are very fine and, secondly, the two sets 'after' these more famous composers were far more than simple arrangements. Avison cuts, rescores, extends, transposes and indeed inserts movements of his own in amongst the selections sourced from his continental contemporaries. In the notes with the complete set of these Scarlatti Concerti recorded by the Brandenburg Consort (review) the actual harpsichord sonatas are identified so far as they are still in existence, with their Kirkpatrick numbers: it is quite noticeable how much of this marvellous music is not by Scarlatti. In the Café Zimmermann note they remark how they played guessing games as to who's tunes were in use and when checking the manuscript found they were regularly wrong! Avison continued composition of such music even when the genre was drifting out of fashion to be replaced by the early classical symphonies of such as J.C and C.P.E. Bach, not to mention Thomas Erskine 6th Earl of Kellie who was busy composing in the new Mannheim style even further north in Scotland.

Grand Concertos, as they were known in England, were hugely popular amongst amateur orchestral societies in the provinces, as well as with both amateurs and professionals in London, thus there was a demand for scores which far exceeded the amount of music being composed locally. Only two other names come to mind as active in the North, John Hebden and the slightly younger John Garth. Underpinning this was the great popularity of Italian music. This all led to the concerti for which Avison was responsible. The combination of his own skill and the remarkable, imaginative fecundity of Domenico Scarlatti make for a supremely enjoyable confection. Scarlatti famously produced 555 keyboard sonatas. As one can imagine, the 'Two Books of Lessons', i.e. sonatas, available to Avison did not contain more than a fraction of this gigantic output, and indeed only two slow movements were included. Given that all these concerti include at least one slow movement it is evident that Avison adapted his source material's rhythm and tempo as well as the other ways mentioned above. Each work has four or more movements. Often each movement is drawn from a different Scarlatti 'lesson' and given a unity by Avison's imaginative adaptions; often by his own insertions.

The wonderfully named Café Zimmermann baroque group seem to have recorded only these six concertos. It would be nice to hear them in the remainder sometime soon. Whilst in no way exceeding the achievement of the Brandenburg Consort on Hyperion these players are utterly first class and fully a match for the English group. The big difference, apart from six extra concerti, is in the informative notes Hyperion supply (I have the original issue, the notes in the current reissue may be different). Alpha's notes are good but nowhere near as detailed and scholarly. The recording is excellent with a nice hint of the acoustic space of the venue.

To those for whom this is unknown baroque territory, you can be assured that after the obvious Concerti Grossi by Corelli and Handel these are a match for all others and a timely reminder that the recently mentioned 'Northern Powerhouse' has been significant in other, non-mercantile and non-industrial, ways for many, many years.

Dave Billinge



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