Sunday, July 23, 2017

Sunday Bach - Sixth Sunday After Trinity

Bach composed two cantatas for the sixth Sunday after Trinity, both among the most beautiful of his cantatas. But the editors of the Bach Gesellschaft Edition, the definitive edition of Bach's works, considered BWV 9, Es ist das Heil uns kommen her (Salvation has come to us) to be among the top ten most important of his liturgical cantatas, and who am I to disagree with them? It's a chorale cantata written late in his career, around 1732 to 1735; in fact, it was written well after he'd stopped writing weekly cantatas. But because it was written so late in his career it carries the lessons Bach had developed over the years and is as fine an example of the craft of the cantata as there is. Here's what the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music had to say of it:
Bach's setting of "Es ist das Heil" is one of his freshest and most appealing chorale settings. Flute and oboe d'amore play a concerto-style movement accompanied very lightly by strings and continuo. Most of the musical material is not based upon the chorale tune, which appears high and light in the choral sopranos. Rather, all of the melodies act as countersubjects to the tune. All of the recitatives in our cantata are concerned with the rule of law so that Bach sets them all for a rather authoritarian-sounding bass voice. This is in extreme contrast to the passion of the tenor aria and the childlike simplicity of the soprano-alto duet. The sinking into the mire in the text of the tenor aria is characterized not only by the downward rush of the voice but the devilish Tartini-like violin writing. After the sinister tenor aria and the stern recitative, the re-entrance of the flute and oboe d'amore to accompany the soprano and alto adds a heavenly light touch. The musical material is so tuneful and attractive that the listener hardly notices that the work is an extremely skilled four-voice canon. Bach often uses the greatest learning to characterize childlike purity. The harmonization of the chorale that ends our cantata is as fresh and spring-like as the opening chorus.
This week's performance is from 2002 by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman. Enjoy!

Photo © 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

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