Audiophile Audition

Charles Avison (1709-70) was a transitional composer between the Baroque and Classical periods. He was a church organist at St John The Baptist Church in Newcastle and at St. Nicholas’s Cathedral. Avison wrote in the established Italian style, and is best known for his 12 Concerto Grossi after Scarlatti , memorably recorded by Neville Marriner and the ASMF on a Philips two-fer.

But he also wrote a number of harpsichord suites, both with the continuo (as we have here) and without. This is amazingly my first exposure to these works and I am thrilled beyond measure; not only are they fully professional, gloriously melodic pieces of great imagination, but they do not shy away from rhythmic complexities and extraordinary flair in their two to four movement forms.

Though the additional instruments are present, Avison in fact made the harpsichord part compete in itself, no doubt with the understanding that the amateur music market would be a lucrative one. But these are not fluff pieces at all—they are superbly crafted melodic gems that ran through their two-hour playing time several times over to great delight on my player.

Avison is a composer who wrote a lot of music, and much needs to be explored, so we can be grateful to The Avison Ensemble (Gary Cooper, harpsichord; Pavlo Beznosiuk and Caroline Balding, violins; Robin Michael, cello) for giving us this set, played with great authority. The sound is clear, very close, and detailed, though the closeness tends to make the two violins sound more like a small chamber orchestra, so I would start out keeping the volume at a lower than normal level. Wonderful stuff!

—Steven Ritter