Based on Martin Luther’s hymn ‘Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir’ (Out of the deep have I called to thee), the opening chorus of Cantata No 38 portrays the individual cries of distress as Bach pushes the frontiers ‘almost out of stylistic reach through abrupt chromatic twists’ (Gardiner).
Cantata No 115 is ‘one of the most perfect of all’ (Whittaker). In it we find two of the most arresting arias Bach ever wrote: the alto aria Ach schläfrige Seele, wie? ruhest du noch? (Oh, sleepy soul – are you still at rest?) begins ‘as a musical sleep scene of a kind that could have graced any opera of the time’ (Klaus Hofmann); and in the soprano aria ‘Bete aber auch dabei’ (But you should also pray), flute and violoncello piccolo play chamber music of the most exquisite tenderness.
Cantata No 139 draws on the question about paying taxes, answered by ‘Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s’. It opens with the most attractive fantasia in E major full of wonderful textures, a curtain-raiser to a virtuosic double-concerto tenor aria, and a dramatic bass aria tottering about as ‘misfortune wraps on all sides’.
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