Music Review: Nexus Chamber Orchestra shines a spotlight on the cello

nexus1When they’re not in the recording studio jamming with the likes of Carrie Underwood, Elton John, Vince Gill or Amy Grant, you can usually find the members of the Nexus Chamber Orchestra performing classical music with feeling and flair.

On Sunday afternoon, this outstanding ensemble of Nashville’s top session musicians was at Brentwood United Methodist Church to perform the music of Vivaldi, Faure, Holst and Haydn. The program featured some of the most beautiful works ever written for cello soloist and chamber orchestra, so even the threat of severe weather couldn’t keep the audience away.

goldThe program opened with Vivaldi’s popular Concerto in G minor for Two Cellos.  Soloists Sari DeLeon Reist and Nicholas Gold played the opening Allegro with the sort of dramatic lyricism more often associated with baroque operas than baroque concertos. Their playing in the second-movement Largo had all of the intimacy of a heartfelt dialogue between two friends. They dispatched the fast finale with fleet-fingered virtuosity. Conductor Bryan Louiselle led the orchestra with polish and precision.

Faure’s short, somber Elégie for cello and chamber orchestra followed. This piece, which lasts barely seven minutes, is essentially a wrenching song without words. Gold played this music with a melting tone and deep feeling. Nexus’ violins and violas sounded slightly out of tune to my ear, though admittedly I had a poor vantage point at the back of the church. The winds were mellifluous and unfailingly beautiful.

Holst is best known for his justly famous orchestral blockbuster The Planets. On Sunday, Nexus brought the composer back to earth with a sweetly simple and colorful rendition of his Brook Green Suite. The strings were impressive in the Prelude, especially in the extended pizzicato coda. Nexus played the Air with immediacy and sensitivity. It played the final Dance with rhythmic vitality.

The highlight of the short, hour-long program came at the end, with Gold soloing in Haydn’s Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in D major. This three-movement concerto is symphonic in scope and makes extraordinary demands on the cellist. Gold’s playing, overall, was elegant, stylish and thoughtful. It wasn’t a perfect performance – there were a few minor intonation problems. But that did little to dampen the excitement that Gold created as he effortlessly tossed off this concerto’s famously difficult double stops. Louiselle and the orchestra were terrific, accompanying the soloist with color and nuance.

Nexus rarely gives concerts – Sunday’s performance was my first time hearing this group live. Nashville classical fans who want to learn more about the orchestra should check out its new CD recorded with Eroica Trio cellist Sara Sant’Ambrogio.

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About John Pitcher

John Pitcher is the chief classical music, jazz and dance critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He has been a classical music critic for the Washington Post, the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, National Public Radio’s Performance Today (NPR), ArtNowNashville.com and the Nashville Scene. His writings about music and the arts have also appeared in Symphony Magazine, American Record Guide and Stagebill Magazine, among other publications. Pitcher earned his master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where he studied arts writing with Judith Crist and Phyllis Garland. His work has received the New York State Associated Press award for outstanding classical music criticism.

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  1. […] On Sunday I played with the Nexus Chamber Orchestra. This ensemble is made up of the sessions musicians in Nashville as something they do when they aren’t in recording studios recording music for commercials, soundtracks, and other things. Here’s the review of the concert from ArtsNash: […]