San Diego’s chamber music groups have proved inventive finding unusual venues for their performance series, but the Hausmann Quartet’s selection of the Berkeley ferryboat moored at the edge of San Diego Bay is the most unexpected location to date. One of the many ships owned by the Maritime Museum of San Diego, the Berkeley is an 1898 steam ferryboat that operated for some 60 years on San Francisco Bay and was instrumental in the rescue of San Franciscans escaping the fires that raged after the 1906 earthquake.
Sunday afternoon (January 22), the Hausmann Quartet opened its second season of concerts on the Berkeley, named Haydn Voyages, a project to work through the significant catalogue of Joseph Haydn’s string quartets. Hausmann offered his String Quartet in G Minor, Op. 20, No. 3, Sunday, a pleasant quartet from 1772 written in that slightly quirky pre-classical style the Germans call Empfindsamer Stil.
In his spoken introduction to Op. 20, No. 3, Hausmann’s resident musicologist Derek Kratz explained that this “sensitive style,” which Haydn discovered in the music of J. S. Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, featured short sections of widely contrasting emotional moods. Hausmann’s polished performance delineated these sensitive mood changes most clearly in the lively outer movements, maintaining an elegant, deftly balanced sonority from start to finish. First violinist Isaac Allen led the quartet with confident understatement, his plush timbre and supple lines setting the bar for his colleagues.
Gabriel Fauré’s E Minor String Quartet, Op. 121, a remarkably immediate and emotionally revealing quartet, proved the ideal vehicle for Hausmann’s communicative prowess. They drew their listeners inexorably into the composer’s sophisticated contrapuntal web and glowing harmonic excursions. Although Op. 121 turned out to be Fauré’s valedictory composition, there is nothing autumnal about the work, although the middle movement suggests mystical speculation.
In this work, Fauré gave the viola ample solo opportunities, which Angela Choong bathed in her wonderfully resonant sonority. Second violinist Bram Goldstein’s slightly darker timbre complemented Allen’s approach, and Alex Greenbaum’s lithe, meticulously shaded phrasing kept Hausmann’s ensemble buoyant at every dynamic level.
I found it curious that Hausmann included string transcriptions of two vocal motets, one by Giacomo Carissimi and one by Josquin des Prez, on their program—they did not relate to the string quartets on the program, and the performers did not attempt to render these motets in what we believe to be period style. I enjoyed the Josquin motet because the performance called to mind the actual choral work available on many recordings and in the occasional choral concert.