Pamela Dellal, mezzo soprano


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Bach Cantata Notes

BWV 107

All of the current chronologies list the Cantata BWV 107 as being in the 2nd Jahrgang , but stylistically it belongs to the later Chorale cantata type. Like all of these cantatas, the verses of the chorale appear unarranged. In this case the words “Was willst du dich betrüben?” are set to the tune “Von Gott will ich nicht lassen.” The reading for the 7 th Sunday after Trinity is from the Gospel of Mark about the feeding of the four thousand. As with most of these cantatas, the text does not directly refer to the reading, but certain themes, particularly those of trust in God and having the courage to act on your convictions, are pursued in the text.

This is a well-balanced work of interesting contrasts. The opening chorus is somewhat mysterious; it can be read two ways. One can see it as a sustained legato Andante, lyrical and dreamy, somewhat “ betrüben” as the text warns us not to be. Another equally plausible character is light, fast, nervous and agitated. In that case the chorale goes by quite quickly; the whole thing has an ephemeral quality. If one wants to portray the transitory quality of the world, in this opening, that is the way to do it. What is interesting in either type of performance, the chorale phrases are strangely jammed together. Particularly, at the end the last three phrases go by without any articulation between them. It is an impressive piece, but one certainly wishes that Bach had left us a tempo mark to help determine its true character.

Bach arranges the 2nd verse as a recitative for bass with two oboes d'amore. There seems to be conscious effort to disguise the eight-line form of the text. The following aria, also for bass with strings, has a gliding bass line [Verse 3 cont bar 1] and an even more animated melody in the first violins. [1 st Vln bar 1-4] Although the text makes the case for bold actions there is something slippery and insecure about the voice line [voice part with text bar 8-12]. Here is an interesting example of Bach somewhat undercutting the text. Clearly he sees the journey to the calm at the end of the cantata as far from over.

The tenor aria with continuo, Verse 4, has a wonderful, simple idea at its core. The image of Satan arising out of hell is vividly portrayed by the snaking and sinister bass line [Verse 4 cont. 1-2]. There is something positively reptilian about how the line slithers up, then stops, then continues on. The tenor provides the opposition by singing the line in reverse upon his entrance [Verse 4 bar 11-14 tenor with text]. The aria is a marvelous insinuating piece, extremely economical in its musical materials, and possibly the most interesting text setting in the cantata.

After three verses with no sign of the tune, The soprano sings a mellifluously ornamented version of the tune with two oboes d'amore obbligato. Bach is very specific about having the continuo play staccato against the lyrical melody. It is an interesting and colorful effect. The following tenor aria, Verse 6, is the first truly light-hearted piece in the cantata. The two flutes play a jaunty tune [Verse 6 bar 1-2 flutes] over a pizzicato bass. This is a really lively piece with wonderful and unexpected false turns in the phrasing.

Bach turns to the Sicilliano for his final verse with chorus. That form always has a special quality in Bach and this particular one has an especially appealing melancholy to it. One should notice how the very beginning theme in the top line of the orchestra outlines the theme of the chorale [#7 bar 1-2]. One can miss it because the piquancy of the rhythm and harmony have our attention. This is a cantata that gets stronger and stronger as it goes on. This tune with the original words was the subject of one of Bach's greatest organ chorale preludes BWV 658, published in the 18 Leipzig Chorales. It clearly engages him ever more progressively here.

©Craig Smith