Avison: Concertos after Scarlatti

This recording presents a vivid and fresh account of Avison’s astonishing arrangements of Scarlatti’s sonatas. In making these transcriptions, Avison capitalised not only on the interest in Scarlatti’s music, but also on the popularity of the concerto grosso form.

Charles Avison was a remarkably influential composer, conductor, organist, teacher, and writer on music in England (and specifically London) during the 18th century. These string arrangements, or "grand concertos for violins" after Domenico Scarlatti's keyboard sonatas, geared mainly for amateur groups, were among his most popular and lucrative ventures, and it's easy to see why. They're absolutely gorgeous! All are based on Arcangelo Corelli's seductive concerto grosso model, where a larger ensemble alternates with a smaller one, observed here by Café Zimmermann dividing into "concertino" and "tutti" sections. When not reproducing Scarlatti's scores to the letter, Avison fine tunes or adjusts the orchestration to compensate for either extended or overly-difficult passages. What's not to like?

Avison's craftsmanship and Café Zimmermann's performances are impeccable. Rhythmically charged movements such as the Con furia of the Sixth, and the concluding Vivacemente of the Third concerto are as instrumentally if not inspirationally driven as any penned by Corelli or by Avison's more immediate competitor in the form, Handel. At the opposite extreme, and equally beautiful, are the ravishing sustained legato of the opening Grave temporeggiato and the following elegantly-dotted Largo tempo giusto of the 12th concerto. But then, there's not a moment throughout this program that doesn't in some way joyously celebrate the Baroque concerto form.

Alpha's sound is exceptionally vivid and clear. Jack Cassingham's notes are informative and entertaining, and they include a concordance that identifies, movement by movement, which sonata (by Kirkpatrick number) Avison used for his transcriptions. While there have been many recordings of these works, few match Café Zimmermann's virtuosity and uncanny idiomatic flair. And while there's no indication anywhere here, let's hope that Café Zimmermann will soon offer the remaining six concertos in Avison's Op. 6. Highly recommended! --John Greene, ClassicsToday.com

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