Fanfare

When I started the first cut in this set, it immediately sounded wrong. The Avison Ensemble was applying both extensive French Baroque instrumental ornamentation, and notes inégales , much after the manner of Couperin’s observation about French composers: “We write music differently from the way we play it … the Italians, on the other hand, observe the exact value of the notes in composing their music.” But as the selection progressed, it became apparent that Avison was deliberately writing in the French manner, and one that was already old-fashioned at the time of these works’ composition, too. After doing some research, I discovered that this change in manner could be dated to the early 1750s, when Avison had presented the public with Rameau’s Pièces de Clavecin en concert in his Newcastle concerts. That influence carried across to his own “harpsichord sonatas” of op. 5 (1756) and op. 7 (1760), where the accompaniment, as with Rameau, rises to the point of taking an active, equal part in the proceedings. It can’t be said that Avison pursued the intricate part-writing of the Frenchman, or possessed his great dramatic gifts (which appeared in chamber music, as well as in cantatas, motets, and operas), but he discovered a melodic-harmonic vein of charm that does, indeed, honor the man whose “science” he so greatly admired in the written advertisement to one of his later collections.

As to the performances by the Avison Ensemble, they are worthy of the music they play, being both suavely urbane and stylistically astute. The numerous figurations they apply are well chosen, and properly more common in slow movements than fast ones. A broad, reasonable range of tempos is selected throughout. Technically, there’s nothing to challenge these musicians, although the sound of the recording seems a trifle distant and over-reverberant. It’s not a major factor interfering with enjoyment, however. Definitely recommended.

—Barry Brenesal