The Ascension Oratorio, along with the Easter Oratorio, is one of those works which, for reasons that completely baffle me, seems to be little known and rarely recorded. It is shorter (roughly thirty minutes) than the "great" Passions, the Christmas Oratorio or the b minor Mass and it is tucked away in the great volume of the cantatas. Perhaps its reputation has suffered because the major parts of it were parodied from pre-existing (but now lost) secular cantatas. In fact, you will recognise the aria Ach bleibe doch, since Bach went on later to parody the original cantata model again as the Agnus Dei in the b minor Mass. Still, I can't say that being a parody has ever put me off and it is an excellent piece which will especially appeal if you appreciate Bach's use of the trumpet!
In form it is an Oratorio with chorus, soloists and evangelist telling, in a straightforward fashion, the story of Jesus' ascension into Heaven. The opening chorus is a grand affair with trumpets and drums blazing forth to be followed, after the Evangelist and a recitative, by the alto aria Ach bleibe doch. More of the Evangelist and a chorale eventually leading to the second major aria, this time for the soprano. The work is rounded of by a chorale with an accompaniment as blazing as the opening!
Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch.