AVISON Concerti Grossi after Scarlatti
Fans of Avison’s music sometimes regret that the 12 concertos he published in 1744, adapted from harpsichord sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, are better known than his own original works. Yet accomplished as the latter are (and now all available on disc too), they are surely no match for the ear-catching qualities of the ‘Scarlatti’ concertos. In marrying the long-standing love of the English for Corelli’s concerti grossi with their more recently acquired obsession with Scarlatti (and for all that he admitted ironing things out a little), Avison was surely acknowledging a spark of quirky exoticism in the Neapolitan’s music that lay beyond the powers of his own more conventional imagination. The skill of his transcriptions, furthermore, is beyond criticism, delivering string concertos of a formal and textural assurance that certainly raises them above the level of curiosity.
Concerto Köln present six of the concertos, thus differing from the Brandenburg Consort under Roy Goodman (Hyperion, 4/95) and the Avison Ensemble under Pavlo Beznosiuk (Linn, 4/09), who offer two-disc sets of all 12. They also propose a different kind of sound, more continental perhaps in its tautness of texture, line and dynamic contrast (boosted by a bassoon on the bass-line) compared to the others’ more resonantly recorded, ‘English’ stringy transparency. Whichever of those you prefer, there is no denying the virtuoso excitement Concerto Köln bring to the finale of Concerto No 6 and the Con furia of No 11, or the expressive warmth they find in many of the slow movements. The bonus track of Gerald Hambitzer escaping continuo duty to play the Con furia Sonata in its original form is a nice touch. The booklet-notes make some odd statements – Newcastle buyers will be surprised to read that they inhabit the north-eastern tip of Great Britain – but no matter; this is a gladdening encounter with these fascinating works.