In his day in the middle eighteenth century, Charles Avison was considered one of the great composers of England. He first started to get a case of bad PR when he made the statement that his teacher, Geminiani (who by that time had PR problems of his own, stemming from his questionable activities as an art dealer), was a greater composer than Handel, and recordings of his work have remained rare even as other unknowns of the late Baroque have resurfaced. This is the second Avison release to appear on Naxos from the Avison Ensemble and its leader, Ukrainian-born period-instrument player Pavlo Beznosiuk. The two sets of concertos included on these two discs are concerti grossi, pitting the full ripieno ensemble against a small solo group (the concertino). Within the concertino, the violin tends to have a dominant role.
When you think about how Vivaldi, or even Geminiani, handled the various levels that are thus set up, you understand why Avison's music has been left on the shelf. He wasn't an exceptional talent at writing for virtuoso violin, and only rarely are his tunes hummable. The concertino doesn't seem to cleave sharply from the ripieno, and the ho-hum sound also fails to clearly delineate the smaller group. Possibly the insistence on recording in a church of Avison's hometown of Newcastle-on-Tyne was to blame. Avison is at his best in the slow movements, with their simple structures, and some of his movement types are inventively varied. The diverse fugues ("fuga capricciosa," "fuga da capella," "fuga del teatro") in the Opus 4 set are especially noteworthy. Beznosiuk is an exceptional Baroque violinist, and, serving here as both soloist and director, he achieves a sound to rival that of the group in which he apprenticed, the Academy of Ancient Music. It won't do to claim that these concertos are overlooked Baroque gems, but this disc is recommended for English music fans or lovers of the late Baroque concerto.