International Record Review

Charles Avison (1709-70) is one of the most interesting provincial composers of eighteenth-century England. Although he may have studied with Geminiani in London, he worked for much of his life in his native Newcastle upon Tyne, becoming organist of St Nicholas (now the cathedral) in 1736. Burney spoke of him as “an ingenious and polished man, esteemed and respected by all who knew him”. He organised important concert series in both Newcastle and Durham and was connected with some of the leading players of the day; his 1752 treatise, An Essay on Musical Expression, remains an important document for present-day players. Avison’s best-known works are the orchestral arrangements of Scarlatti sonatas published in about 1743, but there are also five other sets of concerti grossi, very few pieces form which have ever been recorded. This new disc by The Georgian Concert is thus a welcome opportunity to assess Avison’s place among his English contemporaries – Arne, Bond, Boyce, Hebden and Stanley – and of course Handel.

The 12 op.9 concertos were published in London in 1766, with a note that they could be performed as concerti grossi (with solo and tutti), keyboard Concertos, string quartets or keybord solos. The Georgian Concert opt for minimal orchestral dress, with one instrument to a part, plus a violone and keyboard (harpsichord or organ) continuo. For the most part this works well, though I would also like to have heard at least one of them in full orchestral dress. Avison himself proves a most engaging companion; his very real melodic gift means that there is barely a dull movement to be found here. As musical “entertainment” in the eighteenth-century sense, I would rate these almost the equal of Handel – though whether Avison would have been complimented by this judgement is open to question, as he believed that Geminiani and Benedetto Marcello were superior composers to Handel!

Founded in 2000, The Georgian Concert include members of the long-established Concert Royal, together with a number of names familiar from London’s early-music circuit. They have a real feel for this music, lying as it does between the English Baroque concerto and the graceful gestures of the Italianate galant – the pizzicato accompaniment to the aria ending of op.9 no.4 is beautifully done, to cite but one example. The excellent recording, by Ben Turner, was made in the new National Centre for Early Music in York. So, very high marks to both Avison and the Georgian Concert. Can we now have the remaining works from op.9 please?

—Francis Knights