The Journal Culture Magazine

It’s a little surprising that the Newcastle-based Avison Ensemble and the Northallerton-based Divine Art haven’t got together before this. But here they are with two double-CD sets out this month, both showcasing the region’s 18th century musical heritage.

Charles Avison (1709-1770) was the main mover and shaker of both Newcastle’s and Durham’s music scenes, organising the first subscription concerts outside London. Aged 15, Avison went to London to further his career and met celebrated composer Francesco Geminiani, subsequently bringing the Italian style to the North-East.

The 12 Concerto Grosso arrangements of Francesco Geminiani’s Sonatas for Violin and Basso Continuo, op. 1, are Avison’s tribute to the maestro. The Italian style divides the orchestra into a group of solo players (the concertino) and the rest in ensemble (the ripieno), allowing for dramatic exchanges between the two and ample opportunities for the lead violinist to show off a virtuoso technique.

There’s no shortage of the latter on these discs with Avison leader Pavlo Beznosiuk – who also arranged the missing Concerto no. 11. Remembering the concert in preparation for this recording at the Jubilee theatre in Newcastle, back in 2005, there seemed something almost cavalier about the way Beznosiuk threw his bowing arm into the solos. But the result is far from slapdash. His energy is combined with meticulous tuning and an ear for a well-shaped phrase, lighting up the orchestra in what should prove a benchmark recording.