As Robertson points out that the image of Christ as the Good Shepherd seems to have appealed to Bach, as he responded with some of his loveliest writing (see also cantatas 112 and 85). In this case, both the opening chorus (Hear us, thou Shepherd of Israel) and the bass aria (Ye happy flocks) are right out of the top drawer. The former, a beautiful tune and a delicate fugue, what more could a humble member of the choir wish for? The latter, a gigue that lilts along wonderfully. Do you remember the opening of the St. Matthew Passion, where the orchestral bass holds a long pedal point until the tension is broken with the most astonishing upward scale? Well, Bach does it again here on a smaller scale, but just as effectively. The tenor aria is perhaps a little less distinguished but with its attractive oboe d'amore accompaniment it is still a pleasant experience.
Try, if you can, to hear Dietrich Fischer-Diskau sing this in Richter's recording. I'm not an unreserved fan of DF-D in this sort of music (he has a tendency to overemphasise), but here he is outstanding.
Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch.