Charles Avison was one of the most significant figures in eighteenth century English music, though his reputation has suffered owing to the prominence of Handel during his time and that his most famous work is the 12 Concerto Grossi arranged after various movements of Domenico Scarlatti . Although the orchestration, manner of arrangement, and even the addition of several non- Scarlatti movements confirm this set as an original effort on Avison ‘s part, Scarlatti is nevertheless the one who benefits from its fame. The Avison Ensemble was founded in the 1990s, spurred on by a cache of newly discovered Avison manuscripts; however, the group got a real boost with the further discovery in 2000 and 2002 of Avison ‘s personal workbooks, containing over 600 pages of music by Avison and others. They have developed a new rubric for Avison — “the greatest English composer of orchestral concertos” — and, additionally, it should be mentioned that Avison remained a stalwart of Baroque instrumental style long after domesticity and the Classic moved the Baroque out of the mainstream. Indeed, Newcastle-based Charles Avison may have been the Baroque’s last outpost.

From the workbooks come Avison ‘s arrangements, into Concerti Grossi , of Francesco Geminiani ‘s Op. 1 Violin Sonatas . The chain of musical recycling here is perilously deep; Geminiani himself was best known during his lifetime for his arrangements of Corelli ‘s violin sonatas into Concerti Grossi . Avison had studied with Geminiani and remained a lifelong friend of the composer, an Italian who plied his entire musical trade in England. Although cellist Gordon Dixon was the founder of the Avison Ensemble and served as executive producer of Divine Art’s Charles Avison: 12 Concerti Grossi , after Geminiani ‘s sonatas, violinist Pavlo Beznosiuk leads the group and is its principal soloist. Beznosiuk will be remembered for his work with the Parley of Instruments , the Academy of Ancient Music , and many other period groups; for this project, Beznosiuk has also contributed a complementary Sonata No. 11 , as Avison himself seems not to have gotten around to arranging that one for his typical, seven-part ensemble. The difference between Beznosiuk ‘s work and Avison ‘s is minimal, indeed, if apparent at all.

Beznosiuk is strongly dedicated to the Avison Ensemble and to the composer after whom it is named; he has decided to record all of Avison ‘s instrumental music, in addition to some selected pieces from never heard composers that Avison documented, such as Englishman John Garth . As to this Divine Art recording, it is apparent from the first note that these are first-rate eighteenth century concerti grossi, and the Avison Ensemble plays them in a relaxed, very easygoing fashion. It is pleasant, but ultimately one wants the music to take wing, as the potential seems to be there in Avison ‘s score. However, it never does — the pace, while never rigid, never really takes off, and slow movements tend to register with a bit more import than the allegros — and there are far more allegros than there are other kinds of movements.

Nevertheless, this is a worthy undertaking that whets one’s appetite for what might be in store with future installments of the Avison Ensemble’s traversal of the work of its namesake.

—Dave Lewis