Composed for the 5th Sunday after Trinity in July of 1726, BWV 88 is based on the Gospel passage in Luke 5:1–11, that tells of Peter’s fishing expedition. However, in this two-part cantata, Bach appears to ignore the Gospel of the day and turns instead to an Old Testament text reporting on the search parties (fishermen and hunters) sent by the Lord to gather in his scattered people (Jeremiah 16:16). This passage presented Bach with an opportunity to create two generic musical images in a single aria for bass as Vox Christi: a fishing scene and a hunting scene. The extended bass aria opens as a lilting 6/8 barcarolle (a rocking Venetian gondoliers song) with two oboes d’amore and strings, calling to mind gently lapping waves rippled by the wind. Suddenly the scene changes to a hunt, with a pair of high horns added to the orchestra dominated by signal-like motifs and lively coloratura.

The content of the introductory Bible verse has no real link with the miracle of the fishing expedition. Instead it describes the vision that one day God will once more seek out the people of Israel, which has become unfaithful, rejected and scattered, ending with the question "and does he abandon us to the foe’s deceit and spite?" "No!" answers the tenor violently at the start of the minuet-like aria with oboe d’amore obbligato.

The aria, and Part I of the cantata, concludes with the strings joining the ritornello. Part II opens with a direct quotation from the Gospel, creating a mood that foreshadows the St Matthew Passion, for the tenor (evangelist), followed by the words of Jesus, addressed to Peter. This arioso for bass in triple-rhythm over a cello ostinato (repeated pattern) begins simply then expands into a melismatic dialogue with the continuo. A skillful duet for soprano and alto, set as a two-part invention with a sighing motif in the last line, leads us to an affirming soprano recitative. The final chorale, the last strophe of the well-known “Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten” by Georg Neumark (1657) forms a simple conclusion to the work.

©Ryan Turner

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