J.S. Bach: The Church Cantatas, Vol. 28: Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen, BWV 56

Brilliant Classics – Oct 9, 2021

One of Bach’s most beautiful works for solo voice and orchestra is Cantata 56 ‘Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen’ (BWV 56). This intimate cantata for Sunday 27 October 1726, the 17th Sunday after Trinity, was originally written for Bach’s second wife Anna Magdalena, who had a fine soprano voice and was often involved in performances of Bach’s music.

Later, in 1731-32, Bach adapted the cantata for alto and even bass; since then this work has moved countless churchgoers and concert audiences. The composition is based on the gospel for the 19th Sunday after Trinity (St Matthew 9: 1-8), which tells of the paralysed man who was healed by Christ and redeemed from his sins. In the first aria, with a wonderful feeling for text depiction, Bach symbolises the word ‘Kreuzstab’ (cross) with a # (C sharp) and illustrates ‘tragen’ (bearing) with expressive ‘seufzer’ (sighing) motifs in voice and instruments.

At the text ‘Da leg ich den Kummer auf einmal ins Grab’ the bass sings in a sudden and conspicuous triplet rhythm, with a descending sixth at the word ‘Grab’ (grave). These fine phrases of resignation are reinforced by long bass notes, affective ‘sighing’ in the strings and oboes, and a combination of quavers and triplets. In the ensuing recitative we are again reminded of the same passage from St Matthew, where Christ crosses the water by boat and arrives in his city. At the text ‘Mein Wandel auf der Welt ist einer Schiffahrt gleich’ Bach suggests the movement of the waves with an undulating motif in the solo cello part. This accompaniment stops suddenly as the tired traveller reaches heaven, leaving the ship and finally finding peace after such sorrow: ‘So tret’ ich aus dem Schiff in meine Statt, die ist das Himmelreich, wohin ich mit den Frommen aus vieler Trübsal werde kommen’.

Full of joy, the solo voice and oboe ring out to the text ‘Endlich wird mein Joch wieder von mir weichen müssen’ in the following da capo aria in B-Flat Major. Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach Artists: Holland Boys Choir, Netherlands Bach Collegium, Pieter Jan Leusink (conductor) & Bas Ramselaar (Basso) Online purchase or streaming (Spotify, iTunes, Amazon Music, Deezer):

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Tracklist: Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen, BWV 56: 00:00 I. Aria. Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen (Basso) 06:44 II. Recitativo. Mein Wandel auf der Welt (Basso) 08:40 III. Aria. Endlich, endlich wird mein Joch (Basso) 16:06 IV. Recitativo. Ich stehe fertig und bereit (Basso) 17:42 V. Choral. Komm, o Tod, du schlafes Bruder (Coro)

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