Bach - Gelobet sei der Herr, mein Gott (BWV 129) - Oxford Bach Soloists

Sunday 10th September 2017 saw a performance of J. S. Bach's 'Gelobet sei der Herr, mein Gott' [BWV 129] as part of the Lutheran Vespers at St Michael at the North Gate in Oxford. Oxford Bach Soloists, directed by Tom Hammond-Davies, performed the cantata liturgically as part of this 4pm service. The church was full to capacity.

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BWV 129 was written in 1724/5 for the Feast of the Trinity (possibly in 1726), using words by Johann Olearius. It was great to play one of Bach's pre-Leipzig cantatas and it is always a delight to perform a cantata, such as this, that I have not played before in public.

Oxford Bach Soloists consisted of three natural trumpets, timpani, one flute, two oboes, and a OVPP string section. The cantata lasts around 24 minutes, beginning and ending with choruses (featuring the three trumpets). Three arias form the middle movements. The jubilant opening chorus - 'Gelobet sei der Herr' - features a soprano cantus firmus based on the melody of 'O Gott, du frommer Gott'. The cantus firmus was, on this occasion, also reinforced on the main church organ. The trumpets play percussive interjections over the intertwining string and woodwind concertato.

The three following arias presumably represent the Trinity and the whole cantata contains no recitative. The first aria, for bass (performed by Ben Davies), represents 'God the Son'. The second aria - for soprano (Aileen Thomson), solo flute (Yu-Wei Hu) and solo violin (Dan Edgar), with a busy continuo line - is solemn and reflective. The third aria - for alto (Caitlin Hulcup) and solo oboe d'amore (Frances Norbury) is a beautiful duet, with the text mentioning the three aspects of the Trinity. The final chorus, 'Dem wir das Hellig itzt' (To whom we now let 'Holy') is also in a concertato style. Although brief, the final movement ends the cantata with a joyous chorus and an exciting ritornello in the orchestra. It bears some similarities in form and feel to the final movements of the Christmas and Ascension Oratorios.
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