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Excerpt from the start of the tenor recitative from cantata 109, with “piano” and “forte” marked. Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Preußischer Kulturbesitz

For this 21st Sunday after Trinity, Bach wrote cantata 109 Ich glaube, lieber Herr, hilf meinem Unglauben! in 1723.

For overall best performance, I recommend Herreweghe’s recording from 2013, with counter-tenor Damien Guillon and tenor Thomas Hobbs.

Listen to this recording on YouTube. To support the artists, please consider purchasing the entire album on Amazon — a good deal if you like this blog, as it also includes three cantatas I discussed here earlier this year: cantata 44, cantata 73, and cantata 48.

Read the German texts with English translations here, and find the score here.

I love Herreweghe’s interpretation of  the opening and closing chorus as well as Damien Guillon’s singing in the alto recitative and aria.

However, there is an extremely dramatic and unusual recitative and aria for tenor in this cantata which I like better on the Gardiner recording. The recitative is unusual because Bach has two voices/persons speak: the uncertain/fearful voice, marked “piano” in his manuscript (see picture above), and the certain/faithful voice, marked “forte” in the manuscript. According to Gardiner, this feature never appears anywhere else in Bach’s recitative writing.

Just as with the “Storm on the lake” aria from cantata 81, only Gardiner and the fabulous Paul Agnew are able to properly convey the drama of the text and context of this tenor recitative and aria. If at first you think this might be a bit over the top, it is most probably exactly what Bach had in mind. A bit of opera to properly bring out the agony of the text.

Listen to these two movements by Gardiner and Agnew on YouTube: the recitative here, and the aria here.

Bach might have been preparing the Leipzig congregations for the St. John Passion he was planning for Good Friday 1724, as this tenor aria is very similar in dramatic intensity and music to the Ach mein Sinn aria from that passion. Those who know the St. John Passion well might hear other resemblances in this cantata 109.


Wieneke Gorter, October 16, 2016