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Bach Cantata Listener's Guide

Christ, unser Herr, zum Jordan kam (Christ, our Lord, came to Jordan)

Cantata 7

  • St. John the Baptist
  • Epistle: Isaah xl. 1-5 (Prepare ye the way)
  • Gospel: Luke i. 57-80 (The birth of John the Baptist)
  • Rating: 2+

The theme is the baptism of Christ in the waters of the River Jordan and the hymn upon which this chorale cantata is based is by Martin Luther. The words are a meditation upon the meaning of this event and are, apart from one exception, unusually fine. An excellent chorale fantasia opens the cantata and for once the tenors get to sing the melody! There's a lovely sense of ebb and flow in the orchestral accompaniment suggesting, perhaps, the waters of the River Jordan. There seems to be enough orchestral material in this opening movement, where the solo violin features prominently, to suggest that we may be hearing bits of a lost violin concerto movement. The structure of this cantata is such that the orchestral texture in the arias is spare to begin with but thickens throughout. The simple accompaniment, plus the uninspiring melodic and textual content of the first bass aria means that it is something of a let down after such a wonderful opening chorus. The next recitative promises better and very pleasant tenor aria, with dueting violins follows. Another fine recitative is followed by an equally fine alto aria accompanied by a pair of oboes d'amore. A simple chorale setting ends the cantata. There is a slight sense of disappointment for me in this cantata. It is fine but surely it could have been so much finer! The texts of the chorale cantatas often leave a lot to be desired but here this is not the case. Bach was inspired to write fine expressive recitatives in this cantata but the arias should have been great.

Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch.

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