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Music review: David Lockington conducts the Pasadena Symphony

January 15, 2012 |  2:02 pm

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Conductor David Lockington began his program with the Pasadena Symphony at the Ambassador Auditorium on Saturday afternoon with a story about how he and soloist Andrew Shulman were childhood colleagues. They played together about 35 years ago in the cello section of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. “Andrew was the squirt cutting up at the back,” Lockington told the audience.

Lockington and Shulman, who is principal cellist of the Pasadena Symphony (and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra), reunited for an extraordinary account of Elgar’s melancholy late-Romantic Cello Concerto. The concerto is a deeply personal work evoking life in England before and after the Great War whose intimate grandeur suggests a kind of “Downton Abbey” in music.

Avoiding what Elgar scholar Byron Adams called “the seductions of nostalgia,” their performance was powerfully direct and unsentimental. Shulman, whose solo part demands nearly 32 minutes of nonstop playing, gave a richly detailed reading. He made judicious use of vibrato, his burnished tone creating a confiding expressiveness. He managed Elgar's etude-like repeated-note passages and short solo sections with virtuosity. The nobility and restraint he brought to the score’s many slow sections (there are three adagios) were gracefully supported by Lockington and the finely balanced, lean-textured orchestra.

The concert's curtain-raiser, Philip Sawyers’ 2008 “The Gale of Life," also looked back. Inspired by A.E. Housman’s 1896 poem “On Wenlock Edge,” Sawyers’ overture recalled the brashness of Berlioz and the rhythmic bite of William Walton. After intermission, Lockington and the orchestra gave an invigorating rendition of Mendelssohn’s “Scottish” Symphony. He and the Pasadeneans beautifully caught the tempestuosness of the composer's songful reflections on a bleak and stormy external world, so different from Elgar's own post-war internal weather. 

-- Rick Schultz

Photos: David Lockington, left, and Andrew Shulman. Credit: Pasadena Symphony and Pops

 

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