BBC Music Magazine

Charles Avison spent almost all his life (1709-1770) in Newcastle. His provincial isolation may explain his considerable originality, exemplified in these two sets of six sonatas. He avidly collected Rameau’s music, including fully written-out harpsichord pieces with optional flute/violin. Similarly here, unlike conventional trio sonatas, the keyboard parts are musically complete for solo performance, while the string parts enrich textures and vary sonorities.

Inevitably, most interest rests with the keyboard. Avison’s Op. 5 No. 2 opens with cascading harpsichord figuration behind the simplest string chords (vividly recalling ‘Three Blind Mice’); in the ‘Giga ‘ ending Op. 5 no. 6, the harpsichord plays a bounding 6/8 within a halo of sustained string harmony. Within such simple forces, there is considerable invention: Op. 7 No. 2 starts with exceptionally vigorous sequences and positively Vivaldian energy; Op. 5 No. 3 links two movements thematically.

Recording is rather close, giving performers’ rather than audience’s perspective, but simulates the sense of ‘private Amusement’ which Avison claimed for these sonatas.

Performance **** Recording ****

—George Pratt