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Bach Cantata Listener's Guide

Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ (I call on Thee, Lord Jesus Christ)

Cantata 177

  • Fourth Sunday after Trinity
  • Epistle: Romans viii. 18-23 (God's children await the glory of the body's redemption)
  • Gospel: Luke xvi. 36-42 (Be merciful and do not judge)
  • Rating: 2+

BWV 177 is a chorale cantata based on Johann Agricola's hymn Ich ruf zu dir whose verses reflect the Gospel of the day. The original tune of the hymn is used in the first verse (a chorale fantasia) and in the last verse (a straightforward harmonization). Between these are three independent arias, the first with continuo only, the second with continuo and obbligato oboe da caccia and the third with continuo, obbligato oboe da caccia and concertante violin. This structure is most effective with its pattern of starting complex, returning to the simple, growing more complex and finally returning to utmost simplicity.

There is no question that the opening chorale fantasia is a wonderful piece of work fully up to Bach's highest standards in this genre, however I strongly suspect that your appreciation of the three arias in this Cantata will depend more than is usually so on the quality of the vocal soloists. The material is more subtle than tuneful and the soloists really need to make something of it. You may very well start out liking the third better than the second better than the first, simply because of the relative attractiveness of the instrumental accompaniments. However, I rather think that the first (alto) aria, with its subtle motifs, may grow on you and displace the rather more "obvious" soprano and tenor arias in your affection.

Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch.

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