Open Reel Records’ Christmas Concert album: it’s not just for Christmas!

“A tape is for life, not just for Christmas.” Okay, a tape’s not quite a dog, but still…

Sorry, those of you outside the UK probably have no idea what I’m rambling on about now! “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas,” was a famous advertising slogan from the charity The Dog’s Trust, who were trying to encourage people not buy puppies as gifts and then abandon them in January when they realised how much responsibility they were. Anyway, caring for your tapes takes a bit of effort but they’re hardly dogs – but the point of the slogan will become clearer as we move on…

The topic at hand here is Open Reel Records’ master copy-tape album Christmas Concert: Per La Notte Di Natale (for Christmas night). It comprises seasonal works from three of the 17th century baroque movement’s key composers, Corelli, Geminiani and Perti.

Arcangelo Corelli’s concerti grossi, Op. 6, are a collection of twelve concerti which were arranged for publication 1714. Here, we have No. 8, in G minor, also known as the Christmas Concerto, as it was written for Christmas Eve and has a pastorale in the last movement. This is followed by Francesco Geminiani’s Concerto grosso op V no. 12, La Follia, and finally G. A. Perti’s Sinfonia a 4 con violini.

I received this wonderful tape from Open Reel Records’ Marco Taio around this time last year. At that point I was too busy to write about it over the Christmas period, but I really enjoyed quite a few festive listens, and then it took its place on my tape shelves until… the summer.

During the early summer I was listening a lot to Chasing The Dragon’s incredible recording Vivaldi in Venice. Tape as a format, and particularly in 15ips master copy, has really broadened and matured my musical palette, including an increasing passion for the baroque.  It wasn’t a genre I’d really got passionate about before, but by this point I was developing quite a habit of relaxing on a Sunday morning with the delicate melodies of a handful of baroque composers dancing in the early morning sun, feeling as fresh as the air and the early morning dew (the music I mean, not me!). Actually maybe it wasn’t dew, more the previous night’s rain – this has been a relentlessly wet year here in England.

Alongside Vivaldi in Venice, several of Open Reel Records’ magical recordings became part of my Sunday morning routine, notably Enrico Dindo and I Solisiti di Pavia’s Vivaldi and Haydn concertos. Each of these brings a delightful Italian baroque charm and relaxing ease to the morning, quite my favourite way to start a day. It’s what Sundays are made for I reckon.

And that’s how Open Reel’s Christmas Concert also found its way into my Sunday morning repertoire. The thing is, it didn’t feel remotely out of place slap-bang in the summer, which is my (typically) long-winded way of saying that this is music that you can relish at any time of the year!

Made in Bologna

As is invariably the case with Open Reel Records, Marco Taio recorded this album as a live concert performance in a venue specifically selected for its superb acoustics: the magnificent Cappella Farnese (Farnese Chapel) in the Palazzo d’Accursio in Bologna. The latter palace functions as the city’s town hall, library and art gallery.

It’s not insignificant that the concert was staged in Bologna, since the city was the centre of baroque music in Italy. Each of the three composers featured in this recording – Corelli, Geminiani and Perti – spent time in Bologna. In fact, Perti was the Mastero do Cappella (master of the choir or orchestra) in the city’s impressive San Petronio church for no less than sixty years.

Palazzo d’Accursio in Bologna, 2012

A congruence of two highly atmospheric concerts

This recording is actually a compilation of two separate concerts, both performed in the Cappella Farnese, but at different times. The Geminiani and Perti were recorded on the 20th December 2013, and the Corelli the following year, on 17th December 2014.  Both featured the same musicians: the Accademia degli Astrusi with conductor Fedrico Ferri (who also records for Sony Classical, Warner Classical, Deutsche Harmonia Mundi and Concert Classics, as well as for radio broadcasts on BBC Radio 3 among others).

The Accademia degli Astrusi and Ferri have made several other recordings with Marco Taio, some of which are also available as tape copy-masters on the Open Reel Records label. Vivaldi’s Nisi Dominus and Pergolosi’s Stabat Mater, for example, are performed by the same ensemble and are tapes I very much look forward to listening to.

I’ve come to expect nothing but the best from Open Reel Records… Marco Taio’s ability to capture the acoustic, the air, the life, the humility, the passion of an event is second to none. And here, Marco doesn’t disappoint. The space of the Cappella Farnese / Palazzo Accursio is captured absolutely vividly.

Federico Ferri

Kicking off with Correlli’s Concerto Grosso in G minor, the fluctuation of solemn and spirited movements was designed for Christmas night, but in fact it takes you on a journey of moods and feelings that are a joy at any time. At its peaks you really get the full baroque experience: think gold and brocade and feast-laden tables – contrasted with the soothing lullaby of the final pastorale. For me, one of the highlights of the Corelli is the visceral sense that I get of a ‘conversation’ between the different strings. The energy and dynamics of the music are wide-ranging, as are those of different types conversation – from heated debate and  mutual exchanges of ideas, to deep listening and a quiet intimacy.

Geminiari’s La Follia also features a ‘conversation’ between the violin and violone (a baroque double bass), but here the conversation is a vivid and rousing one with multiple voices – it reminded at times like the full buzz of a packed Italian bar-café! Geminiari studied with Corelli between 1704 and 1706 and reworked many of Corelli’s sonatas for a full string orchestra. La Follia is one such piece. A bit of Googling informs me that the folia (‘follia’ in Italian) was a dance of Portuguese origin whose earliest examples dated from the 15th century. Here, Geminiani took what had been a demanding virtuoso work for solo violin and basso continuo and transformed it into a thrilling showpiece for strings, by adding a viola part and an active second violin part to Corelli’s violin-and-bass texture.

The concert

I wasn’t hugely familiar with Perti before listening to this recording so felt prompted to consult ‘the oracle’ (our old friend Google again). I discovered that Giacomo Antonio Perti (1661-1756) began learning music at an early age (not unusual) – first harpsichord, then violin. By his late teens he had already written a mass, a motet, and a setting of the Magnificat, and at 17 he wrote his first opera and oratorio. He remained a prolific composer and was highly regarded for his sacred music and his operas; he also wrote secular music including 142 solo cantatas and some instrumental pieces including sonatas and sinfonias for a variety of instruments. Perti was also recognized as a distinguished musician not only by other composers, but also by the aristocracy, including Ferdinando de’ Medici (one of the last of the Medici family) and Charles VI. Almost as impressive: he lived to the age of 95.

Federico Ferri

This is certainly beautiful music, played with a vivacity, sensitivity and energy that transports the lister to another place, another time. To say that it generates a good spirit, or indeed that it’s a kind of spiritual experience to listen to, isn’t so far-fetched. But as I’ve already mentioned, the album doesn’t specifically (for me) conjure up only Christmas and so I can quite happily sit in the summer sun (or what little of it we had in the UK this year!) and enjoy every enchanting moment of it.

Beauty, space, good energy, peace and light… of course these things are not just for Christmas. In fact, given the troubled political and social times in which we currently find ourselves, I suspect we could all do with an injection of these feelings year-round.

In the meantime, I wish you all the merriest of end of year festivities!

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Accademia degli Astrusi