The Gospel on the miracle of the Wedding at Cana is about transformation - water into wine, doubt into trust. It is the exact reading that Bach’s congregation would have heard just before the first performance of today’s cantata. Bach’s wonderful Weimar librettist Salomo Franck weaves in the general theme of the reading while making full poetic use of the images of water, wine and tears. An arresting recitative opens the cantata – we hear Bach the hypothetical opera composer at work as the soprano (the Soul) expounds her troubles over an anxious throbbing bass line with dissonant interjections from the upper strings. The word ‘Freude’ [joy] is ironically colored by a dazzling upward melisma from the soprano, accompanied by downward string arpeggios – more descriptive of the abundant tears than the absent ‘wine of joy’. In the second movement, the bassoon takes on the role of the troubled (perhaps weeping) soul in an extraordinary solo obbligato, with the alto and tenor – standing off to the side of the drama – offering encouraging words in parallel thirds and sixths. The extended bass recitative provides words of solace to the Soul from the voice of Christ – the wine of comfort and joy nicely mirrored in the continuo line. The lively triplets prevalent in the soprano aria suggest the energetic shrugging off of care and worry as the Soul casts herself into the arms of God. A verse from the chorale ‘Es is das Heil’ concludes the cantata, providing further thematic clarification.

©Michael Beattie

Cantata BWV 155 dates from the composer’s years in Weimar, and uses as a text a wonderfully eccentric and colorful work by Salamo Franck. Although written for the second Sunday after Epiphany, the biblical reading is usually associated with the last Sundays after Pentecost. It opens with a moving and highly dramatic arioso for soprano and strings. The wonderful, melancholy duet for alto and tenor with bassoon obbligato has a unique, shadowy texture with expressive leaps for the bassoon and tight, chromatic harmony for the voices. After a large bass recitative, the soprano and strings return for an odd aria. The unusual bouncy string writing comes from the verb “worfen.” Surprisingly dark harmonic shafts keep appearing at unexpected times throughout the aria. A four-voice setting of “Es ist das Heil” closes this wonderful cantata.

©Craig Smith

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