Charles Avison (1709-70) unusually made a considerable name for himself outside London – as writer, composer, concert promoter and organist. Although he spent time in the capital as a pupil of Geminiani, he returned to his birthplace, Newcastle, for the rest of his working life.
Avison wrote no less than seven full sets of concertos, choosing the older style and formal structure of Corelli and Geminiani – four movements and a trio of soloists – rather than the gallant Vivaldian three-movement model with virtuoso solos. As the basis of his 1744 set, he took the keyboard studies of Domenico Scarlatti, transcribing them into 12 effective orchestral concertos. We have Avison to thank for preserving ten of Scarlatti’s movements, otherwise unknown. They are substantial pieces, earning lively and sensitive playing from the Ensemble’s 11 strings and continuo. Scarlatti’s invention makes them distinctive, and often memorable – the poignant opening of No. 3, the Con furia in No. 6 elicits some powerful playing especially from leader Pavlo Beznosiuk.
The later sets here are less striking and three-to-a-part upper strings have occasional raw movements. A pity, perhaps, that the Ensemble didn’t take up Avison’s commercially-inventive options: he described them as suitable for orchestra, or quarter or even solo harpsichord, to vary the textures. The over-riding impression after hearing 71 brief movements, many under a minute long, is of urbane charm, fluent melody and purposeful harmony, but no one concerto imprints itself on the memory for long. They are nonetheless attractive, now, as they were for audiences at Avison’s regular subscription concerts in the Newcastle Assembly Rooms.