Bach Cantata BWV 91 was written for Christmas morning in Bach's second year in Leipzig. The Luther tune "Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ" is brilliantly set for horns, tympani, three oboes, and strings with the sopranos singing the melody in long tones as the rest of the chorus rushes by with brilliant scale passages. In Bach's day Christmas was not as oppressively cheery as it is today. After this brilliant opening chorus the work looks inward in a most remarkable and profound way. The soprano sings the chorale tune with interesting and sometimes rather dark editorial comments. The great striding tenor aria with three obbligato oboes is an uncanny portrait of both the huge orbit and the tiny cradle of the Christ child. The bass recitative goes through remarkable chromatic wanderings in its portrayal of the vale of tears. The soprano-alto duet with unison strings is probably the greatest thing in the cantata. The insistent and stumbling string figuration is a moving portrayal of Christ's humility and transforms itself into something radiant and glorious in the middle section. This is one of those miraculous Bach pieces that is so much greater than it looks on the page. The horns re-enter for a great final statement of the chorale.

©Craig Smith

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