The familiar story of Jesus stilling the waves is placed in between two of the most mysterious stories in Matthew. First is the peculiar exhortation by Jesus to the man who wants to bury his dead father. Jesus says to him: "Let the dead bury their dead." After our story, Jesus and the disciples run into two men infested with devils. They induce a herd of pigs to jump over a cliff and destroy themselves. Some of the oddness of these two tales informs Bach's setting of the stilling of the waves. Instead of opening with the tempest, Bach's first aria for alto invokes a kind of otherworldly calm, with gently swaying recorders doubling the muted strings. The cantata then moves on to one of the most ferocious of all of Bach's storm scenes. Here the rolling waves of the strings are punctuated by the hysterical coloratura of the tenor. The austere bass aria scolding the disciples for their lack of faith is followed by the controlled fury of the two oboes d'amore and strings while the bass stills the waves. Only a short perfunctory recitative follows leading into a magical harmonization of the great chorale, "Jesu meine Freude."

©Craig Smith

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