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Music Review

Trio Cleonice, thinking big in a small space

Trio Cleonice: Ari Isaacman-Beck, Gwen Krosnick, and Emely Phelps.Kaitlyn Ferris

Anyone with even a portion of an ear tuned to such matters knows that the classical music world has been quite preoccupied of late with the question of how orchestras and opera companies can continue filling the seats of their cavernous halls. And understandably so.

But Tuesday’s abundantly sincere and absorbing performance by Trio Cleonice at the United Parish Church in Brookline suggested a different point of view on these issues, and, implicitly, an alternative set of questions. Are grand concert venues the spaces in which all types of classical music make their strongest case? Should this art form’s health be quantified solely in numbers of tickets sold? And if not, in an era so grimly in thrall to metrics and big data, how do you account for not only the size of an audience, but the quality and depth of a listening experience?


Based in Boston since 2011, the young trio has built a devoted local following, as was clear from the spirited community audience that packed into the church’s parlor room. The reasons were also not hard to discern. Tuesday’s gathering had the informal charm of a house concert, the vast programming range of festivals like Yellow Barn (where the trio has been in residence), and playing that was, at its best, bracingly expressive. What’s more, these qualities were allowed to register fully, thanks to a room that actually resembles in size the spaces so many composers had in mind when they dreamed up their chamber works.

The night opened with an often sparklingly conversational account of Mozart’s Piano Trio in G major (K. 496). Cleonice pianist Emely Phelps then took on Jörg Widmann’s “Eleven Humoresques,” a challenging solo work that pays thorny avant-garde homage to Schumann, treating this Romantic composer’s mercurial world as a kind of found object at once lovingly admired and mischievously distorted. In her bold and technically assured performance, Phelps underlined these connections, bringing out the music’s compressed ferocity, its sudden bouts of pensiveness, and its free-floating lyricism, which sometimes curdles with dissonance.


This trio’s series at United Parish, in its third and final season, has involved many guest artists. Among Tuesday’s visitors, Josh Quinn (bass-baritone) sensitively delivered a set of Ives songs; Danny Koo (violin) and Sarah Darling (viola) joined the trio’s Ari Isaacman-Beck (violin) and Gwen Krosnick (cello) in an exhilarating romp through Bartok’s Fourth Quartet.

Yet for the players Tuesday also clearly seemed bittersweet, as it was among the Trio’s last performances before it disbands. One last Boston concert will take place at the church on June 7.


At United Parish Brookline, May 10

Jeremy Eichler can be reached at jeichler@globe.com.