Bach Cantata BWV 163 is one of his greatest works from the Weimar era. While at the sophisticated court at Weimar, Bach had access to probably the best poet of his career, the director of the mint, Salomo Franck. Franck's poetry often uses money as a metaphor. Here it is central to the bass aria. The work starts with a measured tenor aria with strings that restates Christ's rather heated replay to the questioning Pharisees. Both Bach and Franck ignore the passion of the charge by Jesus of hypocrisy. They are interested in the question of sacred versus secular issues. The cantata has an interesting scheme. The opening aria uses the whole range of the orchestra. The next aria exploits the bass and the lower instruments. The soprano-alto recitative and duet are predominantly high in range. The division of range subtly exploits the low range for things earthly and the high for thins heavenly. The opening tenor aria is almost academic in its metrical insistence on the declamation. The following bass aria uses two celli as the obbligati. The darkness of the two instruments combined with the bass voice produce a texture very like the descent into the earth in Wagner's Das Rheingold. It is one of Bach's most daring sonorities. The soprano and alto recitative is not only high and light but very complicated in its myriad of detail. The duet itself is gorgeously simple and songful with the strings playing the chorale "Meinem Jesum lass ich nicht" on top of the texture. The work ends with a four-part harmonization by our conductor, John Harbison, of the chorale "Wo soll ich fliehen hin."

©Craig Smith

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