Saturday, November 18, 2006

Classically Paul

Paul McCartney's Ecce cor Meum
November 14, 2006 - Carnegie Hall
(Recording on EMI Classics)

Paul McCartney wrote three large-scale classical works, and each has already had their American premiere at Carnegie Hall. His latest, the choral piece Ecce Cor Meum (“Behold My Heart”), is in many ways closest to his heart: he’s worked on it for the past seven years inspired by the death of his beloved first wife Linda. (No Heather Mills jokes here. )

At the Carnegie Hall premiere, the first half of the program was given over to smaller-scale McCartney works; that is, after a bout of mini-Beatlemania that ran its course when Sir Paul took his seat in a First Tier box, easily outshining other stars on hand like Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Jerry Seinfeld, Judy Collins, and Conan O’Brien.

First up were six classic McCartney tunes, sung by the exquisite soprano Kate Royal and the sturdy tenor Andrew Staples, in arrangements for string quartet and added bassist (not McCartney's). Of these, “My Love” was the obvious hit tune, but the others—“Warm and Beautiful,” “Calico Skies,” “Golden Earth Girl,” “Some Days” and “Junk”—are as richly melodic and tuneful as Paul’s best songs, and the added live string ensemble texture was a nice change from how these songs sound on McCartney’s albums.

After an instrumental performance by musicians from the Orchestra of St. Luke of “Nova”—which Sir Paul composed after Linda’s death—excerpts from McCartney’s previous large-scale works, Liverpool Oratorio and Standing Stone were performed by Staples, Royal, and the chamber orchestra led by conductor Gavin Greenaway.

Ecce Cor Meum, performed in its entirety after intermission, is an hour-long choral work as tonal and melodious as Sir Paul’s other rock and classical pieces, but like his other large-scale works, it could do with a little tightening. After all, for nearly half a century, McCartney has penned some of the most memorable pop tunes in history, and his development and juxtaposition of musical themes work better in that shorter context.

But if Ecce Cor Meum—an ambitious work for chorus, soprano and orchestra—was shorn of 15-20 minutes, it would emerge as a stronger, more cohesive work. To be sure, the Orchestra of St. Luke’s performed with its usual brilliance, along with the luminous-sounding Concert Chorale of New York and American Boychoir. Greenaway’s conducting showed a true empathy for the piece, also exemplified by the current EMI Classics recording, which he also led. Royal’s vocal performance was an ear-opener: having to make herself heard over the orchestra and chorus, she was able to soar effortlessly, to her eternal credit.

Undeniably, there’s true loveliness in much of the choral writing, but also some repetition; if McCartney would discipline himself and curb his ambitions, he probably has it in him to compose a symphonic work in the neglected British tradition.

To be considered an heir to the woefully underrated music of Alwyn and Arnold, Bax and Bliss, Rawsthorne and Rubbra, and Walton and Vaughan Williams would be an honor: still, for better or worse, Sir Paul remains Sir Paul.

originally posted on

No comments: