Paul McCartney

Ecce Cor Meum

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If only one of Paul McCartney's varied musical strengths carries his oratorio, Ecce Cor Meum (Behold My Heart), it is his astonishing melodic talent: indeed, it is because of the piece's undeniable tunefulness that it is at all viable. This grandiose, neo-Romantic work for soprano, mixed choir, boy choir, and orchestra would seem unbearably tedious were it not for the chains of attractive themes that are laced throughout, and the monumental structure would collapse under its ponderous weight were it not for the light, lyrical touches that hold it up. McCartney the pop master is still the classical naïf who, by dint of his supreme self-confidence, believes he has the technical skill and artistic imagination to set his rambling, sentimental text with enough interesting material to hold the listener's attention for close to an hour. Yet the predominant tempos are slow to moderately slow, the orchestration is lackluster, and the textures are so thickly chordal that even McCartney's amateurish attempts at counterpoint bring welcome relief. The somber tone of a requiem is unmistakable throughout, and McCartney's gravitas is expressed through dark timbres and minor harmonies that seem borrowed from Mozart and Verdi; only in the third movement, "Musica," is the mood lightened to a bittersweet nostalgia, expressed through a poignant melody comparable to anything in McCartney's popular song catalog, and brightened with brass fanfares reminiscent of "Penny Lane." Yet the bulk of this overlong work is heavy going, and despite the best efforts of soprano Kate Royal; the London Voices, the combined boy choirs of Magdalen College, Oxford, and King's College, Cambridge; and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields under Gavin Greenaway, this oratorio comes off as a pretentious exercise with few worthwhile highpoints. EMI's sound is good, though better separation of parts might have made this recording more listenable.

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