Pulse Chamber Music serves up new American works at Church of the Epiphany

May 30, 2013

With its series of concerts every Tuesday at noon, the Church of the Epiphany, at 13th and G Streets NW, serves up what may be the best lunchtime bargain in town: Enjoy an hour of superb music, and pay what you like.

This week’s concert featured a fine young piano, clarinet and violin trio, Pulse Chamber Music, in a mostly lighthearted program that showcased two new works from contemporary American composers.

Commissioning new music, pianist Marina Radiushina said, is one of the ensemble’s key aims, and the program opened with the delightful “Semi-Suite,” written for the group by the Miami-based composer Thomas Sleeper. Despite his name, there’s nothing somnolent about Sleeper’s music — the suite proved to be a well-caffeinated collection of alert little dance movements, full of surprising twists and intricate ideas.

Bringing a distinctly modern language to a baroque-era form, Sleeper balanced the best of both eras, keeping a deft touch throughout the five concise, quick-witted movements. The trio played it with confidence and razor-edged clarity — no easy task, given the church’s daunting acoustics.

Aram Khachaturian’s 1932 “Trio” is an early work from the composer’s student days, but it’s a rich and deeply engaging masterpiece nonetheless, steeped in the biting folk melodies of his native Armenia. Clarinetist Margaret Donaghue Flavin, trading lines with violinist Scott Flavin, brought a dark, emotionally complex edge to this often-melancholy work, whose dissonances and rhythms sometimes seem to be fighting each other. It’s not an easy piece to bring off, but Pulse played it with such intelligence and naturalness that it seemed virtually spontaneous.

The afternoon closed with the colorful “Jobs” by Dave Rimelis. It’s a series of four musical “portraits” that portray a plumber with a leaky pipe, a photographer catching an elusive moment, an elevator operator stuck between floors and a street vendor in the city, all done in the kind of playful spirit found in French music of the 1930s. The Pulse players gave it a warm and affectionate reading, and when brought back for an encore, played an elegant arrangement of the second of Gershwin’s Three Preludes for Piano.

Brookes is a freelance writer.

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