Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Avison: 12 Concerti Grossi (Scarlatti) - ASMF, Neville Marriner

Charles Avison
12 Concerti Grossi
Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Neville Marriner
Philips 438 806-2

Newcastle-born and -based, Charles Avison issued his string arrangements of harpsichord sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti in 1744. Forty-two of Scarlatti's sonatas had been published by Roseingrave in London five years earlier and it was these which, by and large, provided Avison with his material. 'By and large', since, as Stephen Roe remarks in his note, the sonatas included only two slow movements and Avison, planning 12 concertos in the slow-fast-slow-fast scheme favoured by his teacher, Geminiani, required 24. So, at "extraordinary expence", Avison got hold of some manuscript copies of further sonatas by Scarlatti which provided him with additional slow pieces. In the end, however, he inserted a few of his own, albeit in some cases little more than cadential chords. Avison's arrangements are delightful and even as early as 1768 the novelist, Laurence Sterne had immortalized them in the Third Book of Tristram Shandy where he finds an ingenious analogy between Tristram's father's apoplectic rage and the Con furia movement of the Sixth Concerto. In a coda of some asperity Sterne then ticks off Avison for his use of such terms for, as he says, "What has 'con furia'-'con strepito' [which Avison never used]-or any other hurly-burly whatever to do with harmony?"

These performances are lively in spirit, bringing out much of the charm and vitality of some inventive musical ideas. Marriner adopts sensible tempos throughout and has a good feeling for dance measures. The concertino players are excellent and the performances are almost consistently reliable in matters of tuning and ensemble....

All in all, this is an engaging issue of music that stands up to more than cursory investigation. The recorded sound is clear and there is effective differentiation between solos and tuttis. Lovers of Tristram Shandy will require no further recommendations, but the set should have a wider appeal.

Nicholas Anderson, Gramophone Magazine 1994

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