Today is the fourth Sunday after Easter, and the Gospel reading is the passage in John (16:5 - 15) where Jesus tells the disciples that he has to go away so that the Comforter (παρακλητος [parakletos] - intercessor, consoler, comforter, advocate) can come. Bach wrote two cantatas for this Sunday, both of them small, intimate works. I've chosen BWV 166, Wo gehest du hin? (Where are you going?) The late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music had this to say about the cantata:
After Easter, Bach’s first cantata cycle included several large masterpieces such as last week’s Cantata BWV 104. In addition there are several exquisite smaller-scale works, including today’s cantata BWV 166. The strangeness and ambiguity of all of the readings from the Gospel of John after Easter come to a climax with Jesus’ speech to the disciples about his going away. Jesus announces that they would all be stuck if he were not to leave them and that the “Advocate” were not to replace him. It becomes clear by Pentecost that the advocate is the Church. The superb text for today’s cantata begins with Christ’s question to the disciples. The gentle questioning music for oboe and strings manages to be both ambiguous and deeply profound. The sweet expressive melismas for the voice of Christ are laid across the caressing and gentle strings and oboe. The piece rightly ends with a question mark. The profound tenor aria lays out the choices – Heaven or Hell, to go or to stay. The piece is in the form of an elegant sonata à 4. The violin part is lost but has been reconstructed by Alfred Dürr from a version of the piece as a violin trio sonata. The Chorale “Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut” appears in an arrangement with all the strings playing a wide-reaching and melancholy line against the tune in the sopranos. The alto aria manages to smile and yet contain the undertow of the last judgment that is implicit in its text. A rich harmonization of “Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten” ends the cantata.
For this week's Sunday Bach I've chosen this beautiful performance by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman. Enjoy!
Photo © 2016 by A. Roy Hilbinger