The successful Cologne ensemble and multiple prizewinner (ECHO Klassik and more) has been delighting lovers of early music for the past three decades with the vitality of its music-making on period instruments. To celebrate this anniversary, Concerto Köln lives up to its long established reputation for "ferreting out" forgotten treasures and has unearthed yet another well kept secret of Baroque music.
The hunt led them to England and the composer Charles Avison. Not exactly what one might term a popular composer, Charles Avison does admirably illustrate the close interaction between English and Italian music styles in the 18th century. The Italian taste was highly desirable at the time and the concerto grosso – the "Grand Concerto" – had evolved into one of the best loved forms of instrumental music in Great Britain. English composers wrote reams of concertos for professional ensembles and took great pleasure in arranging popular tunes. Avison was a master of the form, composing numerous concertos for his own use as a soloist.
Born in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1709, he took instruction in London from Francesco Geminiani – who in his turn had been a pupil of Domenico Scarlatti’s father Alessandro – and Avison admired his teacher and Domenico Scarlatti in equal measure. The arrangements of Domenico Scarlatti’s harpsichord sonatas made by Avison demonstrate his intensive engagement with the Italian style and can quite properly be acknowledged as a milestone in British music history.
Avison orchestrated Scarlatti’s sonatas and formed them into concertos, generally in the pattern slow – fast – slow – fast. As a rule, Avison kept the mood of the original, but occasionally he turned fast pieces into slow ones (Concerto no. 4) or based his works on Scarlatti manuscripts (Concerto no. 6) that have not come down to us. He abridges, modifies, expands and enhances wherever he judges it necessary. The best insight into Avison’s way of working is provided by direct comparison between original and arrangement – which can be made on this CD with harpsichord sonata K29, which is also the Con furia of Concerto Nr. 6. This is where Scarlatti and Avison are at close quarters with one another.
Avison summed up his work and his observations in 1752 in An Essay on Musical Expression, giving his detailed specifications for sound and orchestra. Concerto Köln has studied the essay closely for the purposes of this recording and its findings have resulted in an interpretation that is both historically informed and has contemporary relevance. Justly recognized as one of the leading ensembles for period performance practice, Concerto Köln offers fresh proof of its ability on this CD: a dynamic, fresh and masterful reading of Early Music.