Thomas Braatz wrote (July 19, 2001):
BWV 88 - Commentary
There seems to be a clear division between those who enjoy this cantata and others who consider it not to be of any great value. On the one side we have Spitta, Schweitzer, Dürr, (Nicholas) Anderson, and on the other, Voigt (1918), (Simon) Crouch, and probably others as well. After the first mvt., Crouch uses words like 'not outstanding' , and 'not truly memorable,' and Voigt even says the following about the 1st mvt.: "This first aria must have meant a lot for Bach because he expanded it to an unsual length." After having said this, Voigt indicates a few places where you can cut out a few measures to shorten the mvt. He enjoys the fact that there are no da-capo arias (he certainly would have made cuts otherwise.) He goes on to state: "The weakness of this cantata becomes apparent as soon as the 1st mvt. is over. After this point the cantata drops to a very pedestrian level. The final chorale points in a very different direction than the beginning aria."
Well, this only goes to show that you can not please everyone.
Spitta and Schweitzer become almost ecstatic in their praise of this cantata, while Dürr and Anderson (who mainly repeats what Dürr had already stated) uncover further interesting aspects that help to understand this cantata better.
Here is Spitta's review which I will paraphrase: Spitta says in essence that there are only two words, "Fischen" ("to fish") and "Jagen" ("to hunt") that stimulated Bach's imagination. Bach did not simply use an arioso for these concepts, which he might have done otherwise. No, he expands it into a two-part tone poem where we experience in the 1st part the mild rocking of a boat on the waves of a lake, and in the 2nd part we are led through a forest re-echoing with the sound of hunting horns. The imaginative visions derived from nature not only give him certain motifs that he can apply in musical form, but they also help to support and evoke the colorful, Romantic atmosphere of the feeling he wishes to express in the music. This is an excellent cantata from beginning to end. Two solo sections (mvts. 1 &4) are based directly on texts from the Bible. The 1st consists of 2 sections ind D and G major. The sequence of the keys is remarkable [too bad Eric Chafe did not investigate this point, for this would have been 'right up his alley.'] Unusual also is the disposition of the orchestral accompaniment. I [Spitta] have been unable to determine a deeper meaning behind these remarkable features. There is a connection between the feeling that comes from the 1st mvt. and a similar passage in the SMP [Spitta does not explain or specify this reference.]
Schweitzer has a 'field day' with the discovery of various motifs and that which he calls the 'rhythm of felicity' (a feeling of charm and happiness suggested in the duet.) The flowing "wave" motif appears "as if to conjure up before the hearer the placidly heaving lake on which the fishers are embarking," and "when this accompaniment ceases, the horns strike in with gay fanfares." "In the 1st mvt Bach sees before him the Lake of Gennesareth, on the banks of which Jesus, in fulfillment of a certain passage in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 16:16) calls His disciples to be fishers of men. This vision prompts the use of the wave motive." In the 1st section "the strings paint the rolling waves of a lake" and the 2nd "is filled with clashing fanfares in the wind instruments."