Allmusic

The music of Newcastle-based composer Charles Avison is becoming more frequently recorded. His Italian-style trio sonatas, here designated Six Sonatas for two violins and a bass, Op. 1 , were written under the influence of Avison ‘s teacher Geminiani and thus come down in a line directly from Corelli . Each is in four movements, with a good deal of the sober tone of the Italian “church sonata” present especially in the unusual Sonata No. 1 , “in chromatic Dorian mode.”

Few other Baroque works made use, at least explicitly, of the medieval and Renaissance modes, and the work is characteristic of a certain fantastic aspect in Avison ‘s music that’s very nicely captured here by a group of British early music veterans styling themselves the Avison Ensemble. Ornamentation by violinists Pavlo Beznosiuk and Caroline Balding is frequent, with a bit of an explosive quality. Things get even more unusual with the second set of works on this two-disc release, the Six Sonatas for harpsichord, with accompaniment of two violins and cello, Op. 8 , first published in the late 1750s. These are neither inverted trio sonatas nor precursors to the Classical piano quartet but rather harpsichord works modeled on those of the French school, specifically Rameau , which might be accompanied by one or more stringed instruments. The harpsichord has the dominant role, with the strings providing simple harmonic support. The sonatas have from one to three movements (mostly there are two), with an intriguing lyricism combining with the French formality. They don’t sound like any other chamber music of the period, and they’re a nice find.

The sound environment of the album is unique. The players state their explicit aim of re-creating the sound the music would have had in its own day; they use original instruments and work in a late eighteenth century English house that gives the music a spacious, live quality, somehow unlike that of a church. Sample it, and you may want to try the whole release simply on this basis alone. A compelling, slightly weird late-Baroque release.

—James Manheim