The Cantata BWV 161 is one of the great treasures of Bach's Weimar years. There is perhaps no other Weimar cantata that is more characteristic of the warmth and openness that characterizes all of the music from that period. Bach's great librettist from that period, Salomo Franck, came up with a brilliant and touching metaphor for the opening alto aria. Death is represented as honey in the mouth of the lion; the sweetness behind the terror. Flutes and voice combine to characterize that sweetness with chromaticism like thorns on a rose. The sopranos sing the Passion chorale to remind us of Jesus having gone on this same journey. The tenor recitative that follows ends with a ravishing arioso for cello and tenor without organ. The "longing" of the tenor aria is hypnotically produced by the unforgettable half-step motive in the strings. The aria achieves a kind of ecstatic melancholy unique in Bach. The extended alto recitative develops that ecstasy with the addition of plucked funeral bells in the strings. The childlike chorus with its gorgeously warbling flutes and sweet thirds and sixths is deceptively simple and sets up the profound final chorale, a setting of the Passion chorale with flutes in unison floating hauntingly above the texture.

©Craig Smith

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