Audio Video Club of Atlanta
, October 2009
Frankfurt am Main native Ruth Ziesak shines in a program of songs that show a very human, personable side of Franz Josef Haydn. With her unfailingly lovely voice and her intelligent, sensitive approach to the character of each song, she does a splendid job of conveying the special beauty of each song in a recital chosen for its balance of serious and lighter subjects.
Of special interest here are eleven English Canzonettas that constitute half of the program and feature a greater melodic richness and a more versatile role for the piano than Haydn’s earlier songs. They were creations of Haydn’s sojourn in London in 179495 and were written to texts by the Scottish poetess Anne Hunter, with whom he had a sentimental affair of the heart (It could hardly have been more than that, since he was past sixty at the time and she ten years younger). Her husband was Haydn’s London solicitor, and Haydn was their house guest during his stay in England. Mrs. Hunter’s poetic texts, ranging from the comic to the sublime, proved just the tonic he needed to stimulate his creative energies. He responded with always delightful, and sometimes deeply moving, song settings that have brought unfailing pleasure to those fortunate enough to make their acquaintance.
The Hunter songs include a delightfully florid and evocative “Mermaid’s Song,” a Scottish folkinflected “Pastoral Song” in which a shepherdess laments her absent sweetheart even as she laces her bodice with gay blue ribbons, and a sublimely austere, gloomy “Spirit’s Song” in which a voice from beyond the grave is the speaker: “Hark! Hark what I tell to thee, / Nor sorrow o’er the tomb; / My spirit wanders free / And waits till thine shall come.” A robust “Sailor’s Song,” with piano accompaniment that evokes the surge of the bounding main, further illustrates the variety of these sings. Not the greatest poetry, I grant you, but just the sort of thing that inspires the best of songs.
In these canzonettas, as in the German songs such as Geistliches Lied (Spiritual Song), Trost unglücklischer Liebe (Comfort for Unhappy Love), and Das Leben ist ein Traum (Life is a Dream), Ziesak’s lovely voice is perfectly complimented by the playing of her accompanist, pianist Gerold Huber. Listening to this recital, the time passes so quickly we are surprised, and a little dismayed, when it is over so soon.