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OVPP (One-Voice-Per-Part)

Part 4

 

 

Continue from Part 3

OVPP Bach in D.C.

Galina Kolomietz
wrote (April 8, 2000): 9:22
Today, I went to a performance of Bach's SMP (BWV 244) here in D.C. I expected a traditional performance, but, to my delight, it was OVPP. The performance was held in one of the churches on Capitol Hill.

The Smithsonian Chamber Players and Santa Fe Pro Musica combined their forces under the baton of Kenneth Slowik, with the following singers:

Chorus Primus:
S - Ann Monoyios
A - Janice Felty
T/Evangelist - John Elwes
B - James Weaver
B/Jesus - William Sharp

Chorus secundus:
S - Kendra Colton
A - Jennifer Lane
T - Tony Boutte
B - David Newman

There were two additional singers who sang occasional lines:
S - Danielle Svonavec
B - Jacob Cooper

The program contained the following insert: "J.S. Bach's SMP is written for a chamber music ensemble. Its first performance in Bach's lifetime was perfectly realised by a total force of 34 musicians, including soloists and chorus. That is known. And nevertheless in our day one does not hesitate to present the work in complete disregard of the composer's wishes, with hundreds of performers, sometimes almost a thousand... Igor Stravinsky, Poetique Musicale (Cambridge, Mass. 1942)"

IMHO, the chamber approach worked amazingly well. The first chorus was absolutely stunning. The bulk of it was sung by Chorus I, with Chorus II participating in some words, e.g.:
I: "Kommt, ihr Töchter, helft mir klagen! Sehet..."
II: "wen?"
I: "... den Brautigam"
I: "Seht ihn!..."
II: "wie?"
I: "... als wie ein Lamm."
etc.

The alternation between the concertato and the ripieno portions of the chorus was very effective in highlighting the meaning of the words. The additional soprano, standing in the front (about 10-15 feet from the rest of the singers) sang some of the lines alone and simultaneously with the group. Because of the distance between her and the group, she was not overpowered. After finishing her lines, she retreated to the back.

The fact that the singers were standing behind the players made me wonder whether the people in the back of the church could hear the singing. I was lucky to sit in the first row. However, I don't think there were any complaints. Everybody was certainly loud enough from where I was sitting. The voices blended beautifully, especially in Chorus II. Chorus I was occasionally dominated by John Elwes, who has a very powerful voice. However, he was generally able to tone it down.

The chorales were sung ripieno (eight singers). The difference in sound between the ripieno chorales and the OVPP (or combination OVPP) choruses gave the performance an almost liturgical character.

The final recitative and chorus moved me to tears. "Mein Jesu, gute Nacht" was sung by Chorus II after each of the Chorus I soloists took turns singing the rest of the lines. In the final chorus (sung mostly OVPP by Chorus I), the two choruses were echoing each other in "Ruhet sanfte," "ruhet wohl", culminating in a ripieno repetition of these words to a heart-breaking effect.

Elwes proved to be an excellent Evangelist. He also sang "Ich will bei meine Jesu wachen" (accompanied by Chorus II). The other tenor aria was sung by Tony Boutte (a very decent tenor, btw... He managed to add some useful backbone to his extremely high natural voice, so he was quite suitable for Bach). While the tenor aria in Elwes' performance may have lacked the lyricism to do it full justice, the Evangelist part was right on target. His steely voice and a conversational manner of delivery proved to be very good for this role. In some passages he was simply superb. E.g., the recitative that concludes the Petrus story literally gave me chills. By the time the next aria ("Erbarme dich, mein Gott") was over, tears stood in my eyes.

The alto who sang Embarme dich (Janice Felty) was amazing. She sang most of the alto arias, with Jennifer Lane taking only one ("Können Tränen meiner Wangen"). Felty had a very soft, somewhat diffuse alto voice that reminded me of a cello or a bass viol. In contrast, Lane sounded a little too brawny. She was good though.

Both sopranos were excellent. In terms of vocal tone, I tend to prefer the warmer sound of Colton, but the "piping" Monoyios was in top form too.

The basses were good, especially Weaver. One of the arias he sang (Komm, susses Kreuz - I think) had the most amazing accompaniment I've ever heard. I've never paid attention to it before! It was sung to a cello and a viola da gamba! Maybe, a combination of a cello and a viola da gamba, with no other instruments, is not at all unusual, but it was unusual to me. It was so amazing that I almost forgot to listen to the aria! Sharp was very good in the role of Jesus, but I was a little annoyed by how loudly he drew his breath.

It's amazing how much "noise" four (or eight) people can produce! OVPP really works!

P.S. In the intermission, I approached Elwes for an autograph. I told him that I was delighted that the performance was OVPP and he told me that he preferred it that way too.

P.S.S. Apologies to those recipients who will get duplicates of this mail.

Michael Stitt wrote (April 8, 2000): 10:25
(To Galina Kolomietz) I wish I was a mind reader but what is: OVPP????!!!?? [Most annoying when people assume we can read their convoluted minds!]

BTW Assume SMP is St Mat's

Still annoying!!

John C. Nelson wrote (April 8, 2000): 10:34
Puzzled me too. Perhaps one voice per part?

Steven Langley Guy wrote (April 8, 2000): 10:43
(To Michael Stitt) One Voice Per Part - considering the amount of discussion aired on this subject and the way Galina described the concert I would have thought it was obvious what she was referring to this approach.

I liked Galina's very informative review very much but I guess not everyone is up with these acronyms? Surely 'tis but a minor point? I suppose we all fall into the trap of assuming we all know these terms from time to time. Thanks Galina, for a very interesting appraisal of this interesting concert and thank you for the considerable amount of time and trouble you've gone to in writing this piece. I enjoyed it. I feel that Galina Kolomietz exhibited a considerable amount of generosity in writing her long piece and she is a very valuable contributor to several Lists. My hat goes off to her.

Michael Stitt wrote (April 8, 2000): 11:14
< Steven Langley Guy wrote: One Voice Per Part - considering the amount of discussion aired on this subject and the way Galina described the concert I would have thought it was obvious what she was referring to this approach. >
Not obvious to me. Sorry.

Michael Stitt wrote (April 8, 2000): 11:16
< John C. Nelson wrote: Puzzled me too. Perhaps one voice per part? >
This appears to be what was intended to be conveyed. New addition to the English language.

F. Oreja wrote (April 8, 2000): 15:23
(To Michael Stitt) Could you tell me what is your problem? To be uncivil and impolite once is not important, but when you cannot stop with it, then one must suppose that you have some very heavy problems there. The abbreviation were IMO very easy to understand without mind readings for all those who take care to read the original posting. And when not, what is so terrible there? It is very common in this list to use abbreviations. When you don't understand it you can honestly ask - without such bad taste and such inconsideration to the original poster.

Matthew Westphal wrote (April 8, 2000): 18:49
There was some discussion of acronyms on one of these lists some months ago that got rather ugly. I do hope that episode won't be repeated.

It is certainly easy for those of us who follow several of these newsgroups closely to forget that even SMP and SJP (St. Matthew Passion and St. John Passion) aren't obvious to everyone, especially to those whose first language is not English. (I have certainly been guilty of this myself, and I apologise.) A good practice to follow is that of defining terms the way it's done in simple legal documents -- to wit:

The St. MaPassion (SMP) was performed one-voice-per-part (OVPP)...

That said, the... well, the snotty tone (sorry, that's the adjective that keeps coming to mind) of Michael Stitt's posts was a rude (as it were) shock -- especially since Michael's posts are usually so personable as well as informative. I'm hoping that this was a passing episode and the likeable, friendly posts I look forward to from Michael Stitt will keep coming.

On those occasions when someone like me forgets to define an acronym, might I suggest a simple post such as --

"Wait a minute, Matthew, what's OVPP? Remember, not all of us are familiar with these things."

Last and most importantly, many thanks to Galina for staying up past 2:00 a.m. (!) to write for us such a well-written and informative review. I wish I showed that much initiative and industry after seeing a concert.

PS to the Early Music Recordings List -- do respond to nagging, so if anyone is interested, I have heard concerts by Concerto Italiano and Sara Mingardo (a different program from the one Galina heard in Washington) and by Sequentia (Friday night) -- keep after me and I'll write and post about them.


OPPV (One-part-per-voice)

Harry J. Steinman
wrote (April 29, 2000):
I've recently been listening to some OPPV chorale stuff and really enjoying it...and some orchestral/chamber music with reduced forces (I believe that's the term to describe an ensemble with fewer instruments).

Couple questions: First, does the term, OPPV refer solely to choral pieces, or can it refer to reduced instrumentation. Second, anybody have any recommendations of favourite chamber/orchestral works that have fewer instruments? Something about the simplicity, starkness that I enjoy.

PS This weekend at Lincoln Centre...Christian Tetzlaff performs the solo violin S&Ps. Oh-la-la! I've been waiting for months!

Donald Satz wrote (April 30, 2000):
< Harry Steinman asks: First, does the term, OPPV refer solely to choral pieces, or can it refer to reduced instrumentation. >
My understanding, which might not be accurate, is that one voice per part can refer to instrumentation as well as singing.

Matthew Westphal wrote (May 1, 2000):
The term (which I usually see and use as "OVPP" or "one voice per part") could certainly apply to instrumental music, but there hasn't been twenty years of raging controversy over the use of single instruments in Bach's concerted music. If you see the term, it's almost certainly in the context of Bach's sacred vocal music.

Benjamin Mullins wrote (May 2, 2000):
(To Donald Satz) It would really only be appropriate to refer to instruments as "voices" (e.g. One-Part-Per-Voice [OPPV]) in highly contrapuntal music, like a fugue. (And even then, this would refer, not to the instruments themselves, but to the range of the part the instrument is playing: soprano, alto, tenor, bass.) In most other less contrapuntal forms, like the Orchestral Suites and the recording of them that has been discussed recently, this would not be the best term.

P.S. Actually though, shouldn't it rather be OVPP (one-voice-per-part)?


OVPP (One-Voice-Per-Part)

Matthew Westphal
wrote (May 23, 2000):
(To Aryeh Oron) I'm glad you finally got the Cantus Cölln CD and I thank you for your comments on it.

One tiny point: you said you think Türk is singing the solos and Jochens the chorale parts. I can't remember where I heard or saw this (Junghänel may have mentioned it when I interviewed him for Amazon.com), but I believe that Jochens is singing all of it and Türk wasn't involved in this recording at all. (He was probably in Japan singing for Suzuki!)

The article for Amazon.com has five performers -- conductors Paul McCreesh, Konrad Junghänel and Philippe Herreweghe and singers Drew Minter and Julianne Baird -- talking about performing Bach one-singer-per-part. I will let the list know when the article is up on the site.

JohSebastianBach wrote (May 28, 2000):
Have you interviewed Joshua Rifkin and Andrew Parrott about this issue?

After all, it was Joshua Rifkin who first demonstrated conclusively that, except when the sets op performing parts have doublette parts, there was only one singer to each line, and Parrott was one of the first to follow in his footsteps.

No matter what the HIP "traditionalists" and "reactionaries" say and no matter how they try to bend the philological evidence (and the purported iconographic evidence) to fit the long-held misconception that JSB wanted 3 singers to each vocal line, they can not change the blunt reality:

Each performer got his or her own part.

Matthew Westphal wrote (May 31, 2000):
Oh, the article is "choate" (that is, formed), it's just not yet launched into cyberspace. (I'm told Amazon's copy department is backed up just now.)

I have, of course, read everything by Rifkin and Parrott on this topic that I can get my hands on. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to contact Joshua Rifkin for the article and I wasn't able to speak with Andrew Parrott until after my deadline. (In connection with the article, however, I will be reviewing Parrott's new book THE ESSENTIAL BACH CHOIR as soon as Amazon can get enough copies in stock for the relevant e-mailing.)

In any case, my focus in these interviews is not on the evidence with regard to this practice and the arguments over it, but on what it's like for musicians actually to perform Bach one-singer-per-part. Thus my choice of two conductors and two singers who perform Bach that way (and I deliberately chose conductors who have not been at the centre of the wars that have been occurring in print over this issue), as well as Herreweghe (as a representative of opposition to the practice).


OVPP

Harry J. Steinman
wrote (July 6, 2000):
< Galina Kolomietz wrote: In my heart of hearts, I'm a fan of OVPP (one-to-a-part) Bach. >
I'm just starting to explore OVPP and really only familiar with Cantus Cölln, the "Actus Tragicus" disc. I really like it! What other OVPP recordings stand out that you can recommend?

Philip Peters wrote (July 6, 2000):
(To Harry J. Steinman) The ones by Rifkin.

Galina Kolomietz wrote (July 6, 2000):
(To Harry Steinman) Matthew is the person to ask for OVPP recommendations! A while ago, he submitted a long list of recommendations to the list - maybe he can re-send it. On my part, I would really recommend the recent reissue of Magnificat & Osteroratorium (plus two cantatas) under Andrew Parrott, Virgin 5 61647 2. At the moment, this is my favourite Bach CD. Rifkin, of course, is a must. Some recordings by American Bach Soloists are OVPP, and generally quite good. I also like both volumes of the Lutheran Masses, both of which are OVPP.

As Matthew already mentioned, McCreesh has just recorded OVPP Magnificat and Osteroratorium, with a great cast including Robin Blaze, Paul Agnew & Neal Davis (I saw it live in London). I'm looking forward to that. McCreesh is also going to record OVPP St. Matthew's Passion. I heard a live performance of it on tape and it was glorious.

JohSebastianBach wrote (July 17, 2000):
< Galina Kolomietz wrote: Matthew is the person to ask for OVPP recommendations! A while ago, he submitted a long list of recommendations to the list - maybe he can re-send it. On my part, I would really recommend the recent reissue of Magnificat & Osteroratorium (plus two cantatas) under Andrew Parrott, Virgin 5 61647 2. At the moment, this is my favourite Bach CD. Rifkin, of course, is a must. Some recordings by American Bach Soloists are OVPP, and generally quite good. I also like both volumes of the Lutheran Masses, both of which are OVPP.
As Matthew already mentioned, McCreesh has just recorded OVPP Magnificat and Osteroratorium, with a great cast including Robin Blaze, Paul Agnew & Neal Davis (I saw it live in London). I'm looking forward to that. McCreesh is also going to record OVPP St. Matthew's Passion. I heard a live performance of it on tape and it was glorious. >
Forgive the late response, but my foster son has been in the hospital.

Bless Galina for having mentioned Rifkin. His OVPP recordings are a MUST!

If only one of the record companies would get him and the Bach Ensemble to do BWV 244...

The concert performance at UNC in 1984 was one of the great musical experiences of my life.



Continue to Part 5


Choir Form: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
One-Voice-Per-Part (OVPP):
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15 | Part 16 | Part 17 | Part 18 | Part 19
Books about OVPP:
The Essential Bach Choir [by Andrew Parrott] | Bach's Choral Ideal [by Joshua Rifkin]: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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Last update: June 17, 2005 17:12:37