Bridge Piano Quartet


BridgeBy Roger Emanuels

A SUNDAY AFTERNOON chamber music concert at Peace United Church in Santa Cruz featured the Bridge Piano Quartet in a program of Beethoven, Turina, and Clarice Assad. The ensemble is comprised of Cynthia Baehr, violin; Eleanor Angel, viola; Kristin Garbeff, cello; and Kumiko Uyeda, piano. All have lived in or have professional musical connections with Santa Cruz. (The event was a fundraiser for the Santa Cruz County Youth Symphony’s Chamber Music program.)

Chamber music performed at Peace United provides a challenge to performers and listeners alike. The lively acoustics can enhance some sounds, such as a lovely sustained violin tone, or they can be so lively as to create chaos. The Bridge Piano Quartet met this challenge well and achieved a good balance in this difficult space.

The quartet Op. 16b (1810) by Beethoven is a transcription of his earlier quintet Op. 16 (1796) for piano and winds. That work was inspired by Mozart’s 1784 quintet (K.452) for piano and winds. Beethoven took Mozart as his model with the same three-movement form as well as the same key of E-flat Major. From the opening warm and unified string sound, the piano would carefully maintain a distance, only occasionally becoming too heavy, not easy to do with the resident Yamaha CFX piano, expertly controlled by pianist Uyeda.

Composed in 2016, The Z Sonata by Clarice Assad is a brief four-part musical statement on the legend of Zorro, the pulp-fiction character created in 1919. For the colorful nature of the story, the quartet appeared after the intermission in bright colors, quite a contrast from the earlier Beethoven-black. Performed with abandon, listeners could imagine their own action hero in this entertaining piece. Assad writes lyrical lines and complex textures, and is not averse to consonance in her harmony. Rhythmic flourishes suggest the Spanish/Mexican background of the story; the movements are titled Don Diego de La Vega, Pasodoble, Lolita Pulido (Don Diego’s love interest) and La Mascara del Zorro. Some sounds, such as pizzicato (plucking the string), ponticello (glassy sounds) and glissando (sliding notes), effectively added color to the story of the sword-wielding, monogram-indulgent hero. Assad has appeared as composer and soloist several times with the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music and with the San Jose Chamber Orchestra. Her father and uncle are Sérgio and Odair Assad, the internationally-known guitar duo.

Spanish composer Joaquín Turina produced his three-movement quartet in 1931, an example of his interest in drawing on melodic and rhythmic elements of Iberian musical culture. The melodies are original but have a popular flavor. The textures and harmonies reflect the composer’s studies in Paris. This performance would benefit from a greater flexibility of line, in deference to a deeper intimacy of expression. Especially striking was the warm string sound in an extended section without piano. But as in the earlier performances, the BPQ created a balance that mostly allowed the melodic lines to shine through.

The Turina was recorded (see/hear below) and the program will be repeated next weekend at the Maybeck Studio in Berkeley.