Although this two-part cantata, has good reason, to be termed ‘great’, that honour, is owed, not so much to the forces employed, -a standard ‘oboe-orchestra’ and continuo, albeit, with the interesting addition of two recorders, but to the way these forced, are employed.
‘Give your bread to the hungry and bring the poor into your house, clothe the naked, -and especially those, of your own family. Then shall the light shine, like the morning, and health shall abound your upstandingness shall go ahead of you and the glory of The Lord, shall be your reward.’
This very frosty start, is desolate, in every way, owing its formative inspirations to perhaps both Purcell and Vivaldi and opening the way, for the likes, of Schubert and Britten.
Cold hearts are as abundant as cold weather in this opening and a cold and whistle-ly wind blows, firstly through, recorders, then oboes and finally settling itself down, on the raw guts of the violins, -and why not, as well, of these unfortunates? all off-beat, this contrived and rhythmic bounce, both elegiac and lamentable, is just not enough, to empower or energise this long and sorry line, of cast-outs and cast-offs, as they hobble and shamble along.
Even the orchestral ‘rally’, an attempted ‘cherriness’, complete with semiquavers, 14 through 22, can do nothing to warm blood that was, in any case, chilled, long, long ago.
The chorus, with its spine-tingling sustenance, is singing these words, to us, as if a remedy, for a disease, that we, as yet, know not, pleading and begging, in imitation, men and women, in turn, and swapping round, 27.
The writing is chorale like, until it changes, 37, where the poor tell us their sad story, of being cast out, in the first place.
At 42, the poor stack up, physically, chorally and miserably, the parts building after a single soprano sets off and at 47, a quasi-fugato with the opening orchestral material.
94, with a moving 4 beat, 2-in-a-bar, the ‘naked’ and the warning not to hide yourself, from your own flesh(and blood!) and at 106, ‘The Light’, a return to 3, but brisk, and fugato, followed by ‘The Glory of The Lord’, 167 through to end.
‘Generous God, He casts His abundance on us, -who without Him, have no breath of life. We are His and that is simply, what we are. He gives us pleasure, -but not through His gifts, they are just a touchstone, through which He reveals that he provides the necessities, for the poor, when, with a gentle hand, He provides, for their needs. For the wealth He has lent us, we are not required to pay any debts. Simple mercy, to our neighbour, more than any gift, will move His heart.’
This straight forward and and narrative declamatory setting, is especially sensitive, towards the ‘…moving of His heart.’, 20-21.
‘To resemble one’s creator, -even dimly, while still on this earth, is a glimpse, of the heavenly bliss, to come. In imitating His mercy, we can scatter, here, seeds of blessing, which we shall reap, again, in heaven.’
This ‘foretaste-of-heavenly bliss’, -a vocal quartet, with two instruments and continuo, is like reading with braille, a topographical ‘map’ of the face of the creator, felt by these instruments, as they follow the lines of the facial features, -shaped, curved, rough, smooth, revealed, creating an image, in our ear, that, as in a mirror, into which we stare, we can see something dimly, that reminds us, of ourselves.
Within this aural experience, there are times of exquisite beauty, -13 through 17, 41 through 50, particularly, the first quaver beat of 45.
This beautiful quartet, which needs a very light-weight approach form the alto voice, oboe, is even better than we think it is and needs to be much more widely heard.
‘Do not forget to do good -and to share, because God is pleased, with such offerings.’
This movement is not marked arioso, as such but seems to fit that middle ground, especially with its sparse accompaniment, of continuo only.
The voice of Christ?
A bass soloist, might gently hint at this, although the words are not directly Christ-spoken and the short bar-and-a-half vocalisations, are succinct, in their directness and clarity, in ‘getting-across’ these pithy aphorisms.
As is happily the norm, with these sort of textures, whatever the direct connection with the words, or the musical inspiration, between those words and music, the two part texture, with its jagged rhythmic hold-ups and ever changing and evolving harmonic and contrapuntal gymnastics, this remains a stimulating and enlightening feast for ear, intellect and spirit.
‘Almighty God, all I posses, it is only your gift. Before your face, -and with all of your gifts, I want to appear thankful, -and the more-so, because, you will still want no return.’
This offertorium, with its somewhat overbalanced recorders, is nevertheless a sweet offering, -and one, that requires none.
A delightful trio sonata texture, that is filled with simple but genuine gratitude and flows accordingly.
‘How can I repay you, sufficiently, for what you have done, for me, body and soul? -And, by no means seldom or occasionally, for I am still and often, receiving, from you, every hour, in-fact. To you, I have nothing but my spirit to surrender, to my neighbour, a desire to serve, to the poor, what I have, from you, and to the earth, when it pleases you, my weak body. I bring what I can. Let it please you, so that, I may, one day, receive, what you have promised.’
Serious gratitude, is the order of the day and the string orchestra allows the singer to rise and fall, in her emotions, as she articulates, what seems to be, a series, of revelations.
The third, difficult line, 6, through 7, und solches gar nicht selten’, ‘and, by no means seldom’, is romantically inclined, in its sentiment.
A revelation, of the personal soul, as the only possession, 10, is followed by another, this time, as to the predicament, of the poor, 13, and a real eye-opener, 15, through 17, death, as an offering, to the earth.
The desperation, of the last line, -hope that all may find favour, and enough of it, to receive that promise, seems comforted and confirmed, in the somewhat tentative, end-bar cadence.
‘Blessed are they, who, out of pity, attend to another’s suffering. Have compassion for the poor and always pray for them. Those, who are helpful, in advice and deed, shall, in turn, receive help and mercy.’
This simple and beautiful, step-wise movement choral, which has an emotional experience, which is carefully, but tastefully engineered, within a narrow bandwidth hides a multitude, of blessings, in its subtle and sensitive harmony.
The second half, of the first phrase, leads us into the pity, -via a nudge to E natural, 2nd bar and a lifting bass and from there, towards the recognition and personal involvement, in another’s suffering, -restatement, of Eb and gentle nudging, tenor, bass and alto…all in that order.
-and similarly, compassion, for the poor and the all-important, constant and steadfast prayer.
Those who are helpful, with advice, 9 through 10, -the move, towards the minor-dominant, D major, via B natural, 9, with nudging Ab, and eventually F#, seems surprising, to them and us, followed by the compliment, -good deed(s), this time, settling, half-way back (F major) to the home key, (Bb), -which is all a step in the right direction,
A satisfying move, as we ‘receive help’, -13 through 15, with an extra beat,14 and nicely nudged Eb’s, soprano/tenor, 13, and all leading to a ‘proper’ relative g minor, 15, and the restrained and controlled inevitability, of the last beautiful phrase, where B natural and Ab compliment each other, in brief uncertainty of this experienced mercy, which certainly, -with cancelled Ab and restored Eb and Bb, is now, a reality.