Bach's double-chorus setting of Fürchte dich nicht, BWV 228, has a curious shape and is perhaps the least accessible. The chosen texts, two extractions from the book of Isaiah, seek to reassure, though the rather obsessive repetitions throughout the piece suggest that the listener may need some convincing. From the start, there is quick interplay between choruses, often overlapping and reversing directions. The third line of text 'Ich stärke Dich' [I strengthen you] awes rather than comforts with flamboyant solo outbursts surrounded by massive diminished chords from both choruses. The double fugue that follows is almost ungainly in scale. It takes the form of a chorale-prelude (with the chorale tune in the sopranos) and the decision to set two verses of the chorale partially explains its length. The obsessive chromaticism of the lower three parts becomes almost dizzying; the fragmented chorale tune seems hard-pressed to maintain its integrity. The piece ends abruptly with just a few bars of the opening material – again, in sharp contrast to the grandeur of what precedes it - all in all, somewhat unsettling.

© Michael Beattie

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