BWV 21, Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis,
is one of the great Bach cantatas — literally at the
very least, because it is his longest: eleven movements, two parts,
and about 40 minutes of music. Along with BWV 135, it is associated with the third Sunday
after Trinity: which would be 28 June this year (2009).
is among Bach’s very early cantatas, perhaps composed to apply
for an organist position in Halle
in 1713 and it has everything a cantata needs: intimacy, a touch
of grandeur, arias, choruses, and a most beautiful oboe solo
in the Sinfonia. The first verifiable performance took place
on 17 June 1714
in Weimar. That Bach was aware of the cantata’s
quality is shown by revisions he continued to make, presenting
the work (most likely) in 1720 in Cöthen and again that year
to get an organist job in Hamburg, and yet again as part of
his Leipzig cantata series in 1723.
result is that there are several different versions available,
at least three of them reconstructable. The differences are
mostly in the detail; the enjoyment of the work is not in the
least determined by whether BWV 21 is listened to in C-minor
(1714 Weimar & 1723 Leipzig versions) or in D-minor (1720
Cöthen/Hamburg) nor whether the solo arias and high voice parts
of the duets with bass are sung by a tenor (Weimar), a soprano
(Hamburg), or alternating among them (Leipzig). Additionally,
in the (three-soloist demanding) ‘luxury’-Leipzig version, the choruses alternate between
the soloists and the whole group of ripienists. Trombones are
added to the penultimate chorus (“Sei nun wieder zufrieden…”).
The last aria (“Erfreue dich, Seele…”) can be alternatively
taken by either of the high voices, soprano or tenor.
it is the Leipzig
version that finds its way onto recordings; among others Richter
(Archiv, 1969), Rilling II (Hänssler, 1976), Kuijken (Virgin,
1988), Herreweghe (Harmonia Mundi, 1990), and Suzuki (BIS, 1999).
In 1994, Ton Koopman included BWV 21 in Volume 1 of his Cantata
cycle - then still on Erato, now Challenge Classics and reissued
on a single disc. He chose to record the Hamburg
version, adding alternating soloists and tutti in the choruses,
Leipzig-style and the alternatively-scored chorus in an appendix.
In his first recording (volume 9 of the BIS series, 1997), Suzuki
also keeps to the Hamburg version, except still more strictly. He offers some of the soprano
parts (the opening aria “Seufzer, Tränen, Kummer, Not…” and
the duet including recitativo) in alternative movements.
latest addition to the BWV 21 discography comes from The Purcell
Quartet (Chandos, 2007, 38:55, see also review by Robert Hugill) whose third
release of the “Early Cantatas” builds on the success of their
previous work. They regale us with the version that would have
been heard in Weimar of 1714. The Purcell Quartet - so
much is in the name - adheres strictly to the OVPP (one voice
per part) approach, so even in the chorus sections there is
only the quartet of soloists employed. That particular element,
admittedly, is very unlikely to be historically correct. Even
in Weimar, Bach will have surely found at least four or eight more singers to
give him a little oomph for the festive, often grandiose-sounding
chamber-style Sinfonia is tremendously moving with the intimacy
of lament; the latter generally being more a solitary than communal
activity. But—perhaps not surprisingly—when the cantata turns
celebratory in the second part. It is upon the chorus to assure
us that we have “not been abandoned by God” and later to extol
the “glory and power [of] him that sitteth upon the throne”.
The (less than) OVPP approach does miss out on something that
even the slimmed-down choruses of all the other HIP conductors
Purcell Quartet is more successful in giving BWV 182 and especially
172 wholly satisfactory outings: Explosive and bold in the latter
(“Erschallet, ihr Lieder”), they make the resplendent C-major
opening chorus a cracking (sacred) curtain-opener, a feat where,
unlike in BWV 21, the chorus is not missed. Trumpets (David
Blackadder, Phillip Bainbridge, Timothy Hayward) resound gloriously
and give the work a flavor that, to my ears, hints at the Charpentier
Te Deum. BWV 182 is just a notch below 172. Tenor and
alto Charles Daniels/Michael Chance have a confined, slightly
sour tinge that I don’t notice in any of their other performances
and the flute solo isn’t quite as impressive as the oboe in
BWV 21 or the trumpets of BWV 172. Small quibbles in light of
their high performing standards and Emma Kirkby’s and Peter
Harvey’s dependably excellent contributions. The performers
have tuned their instruments to Brad Lehman’s “Modified Sixth Comma” temperament.
are earlier recordings that may even be further from the Purcell’s
approach than Richter. Even so, it is usually Richter (and Rilling)
whose ‘grander’ stance is so thoroughly musical and still transparent
that even ears reared on Harnoncourt or used to Herreweghe can
find much to enjoy. So they do. Broad and orchestral, and in
the later choruses with a glorious Christmas Oratorio-like ring
to it, Richter (43:47) sends his superb soloists Edith Mathis,
Ernst Haefliger, and Dietrich-Fischer Dieskau victoriously through
the cantata. Manfred Clement turns the Sinfonia - all conductors
come in at about three minutes - into a generous mini oboe concerto.
The collective chest of the choir is very broad, but there is
so much to admire in the spirit and skill of Richter’s Munich
Bach Choir, you’d not want it any other way when listening.
43:45, Sigiswald Kuijken and La Petite Bande (just saved from severe subsidy cuts) are just as expansive—although
by very different, HIP, means. His soloists, especially soprano
Greta de Reyghere and tenor Christoph Prégardien are the finest
of all the modern recordings. Only when René Jacobs’ alto peeks
through - in the fugue of the chorus concluding part one, “Was
betrübst du dich, meine Seele” - is the casting slightly less
than ideal. All in all, the calm pulse and grace of Kuijken
and his soloists make this my current reference recording.
had not listened to Ton Koopman’s BWV 21, one of the discs with
which I started my own exploration of Bach’s cantatas, in ages.
I’ve since read some unfavorable reviews Barbara Schlick has
gotten for both, her Herreweghe and Koopman, recordings. But
re-approaching these interpretations with some caution, I wasn’t
turned off by her voice—even if I do prefer de Reyghere (Kuijken),
Arleen Augér (Rilling II), and Yukari Nonoshita
(Suzuki II). Perhaps it does get a bit much with Koopman,
since his version is essentially a solo-soprano cantata - and
taken a whole note higher placing greater stress on her voice.
By contrast, Herreweghe mixes it up with Howard Crook who is
particularly beautiful in the aria “Bäche von gesalznen Zähren”.
Koopman also includes the Actus tragicus - “Gottes Zeit
ist die allerbeste Zeit”, one of the cantatas from Bach’s 1707/08
Mühlhausen period - on this extract from his cycle. My MusicWeb
review of three earlier of those Koopman reissues is here and Terry Barfoot’s review of this
If BWV 21 doesn’t climb to the top of the comparative latter,
BWV 106 makes the same point previous releases have made: That
Koopman has, if anything, become underrated amid all the Suzuki-
and Gardiner-hoopla of the last few years. Klaus Mertens and
Guy de Mey are wonderful, the choruses among the best of any
HIP groups. There’s a general geniality about it all that is
difficult to put in words. They are matched only, occasionally,
by Gardiner and surpassed only by Herreweghe.
easier to single out the super recorder solos by Marion Verbruggen
on the plus-side and Schlick’s condensed vibrato on the caveat-side.
I remain unconvinced that re-issuing these discs at high mid-price
(₤10, €12, $17) was wise. At low mid-price more potential
listeners might feel comfortable picking these discs up for
their general, casual goodness rather than hyperbole-laden superlatives
… which they simply don’t elicit. However, even as is, every
issue reminds me what a treasure I’ve got in Koopman’s complete
new Koopman release couples “Erschallet, ihr Lieder” (BWV 172
also included on the above-mentioned Purcell Quartet disc) with
the three other cantatas for Whitsun, “Also hat Gott die Welt
geliebt” (BWV 68), “Ich liebe den Höchsten von ganzem Gemüte”
(BWV 174), and “Er rufet seinen Schafen mit Namen” (BWV 175).
Now it’s Koopman who has Christoph Prégardien as his tenor and
Mertens is synonymous with quality work, anyway. Sopranos are,
for 172 and 68 respectively, Barbara Schlick and Deborah York.
The wonderful Bogna Bartosz is the alto in the latter two cantatas,
Kai Wessel the counter-tenor in 172. Compared to the Chandos
disc, BWV 172’s opening is as if straight out of the Christmas
oratorio, with trumpets in full stride and timpani pounding
away … not nearly as explosive but at least as jubilant.
Sinfonia of BWV 174 is happily bustling and very familiar: it
is the same as the Third Brandenburg Concerto’s first movement,
arranged here by Bach to include horns and oboes. Originally
part of volume 19 in Koopman’s cycle, this is the latest of
just a handful of recordings of this cantata. It’s such a beautiful
cantata that one wonders why it has - Kurt Redel’s old, out
of print recording excepted - only been recorded as part of
complete cycles, so far. With Bartosz, Prégardien, and Mertens
at his service, Koopman takes top honors ahead of Gardiner (Nathalie
Stutzmann, Christoph Genz, Panajotis Iconomou). Suzuki hasn’t
gotten around to it yet.
back to BWV 21, though: With all but two of my favorite versions
(Rilling II and Suzuki II, where my memory must serve me) in direct
comparison, Kuijken is a winner ahead of Herreweghe who serves
my desire for a fleet (37:06) HIP version better than Suzuki I
(37:15) and Koopman (41:03). For exploring textural extremes,
the Purcell Quartet would be worth considering—but the reason
to add their disc to one’s Bach collection is really the two other
cantatas (BWV 172 and 182) it comes with. With Rilling II, Kuijken,
and Herreweghe all available on individual budget-price discs,
the splurge-and-compare approach is a realistic and tempting possibility.
For those interested in Bach’s musical cross-references and parodies,
the Organ Prelude & Fugue BWV 541 contains
the fugue of the opening chorus, except in (G) major.
Jens F Laurson
see also Reviews
by Robert Hugill and Terry