February 29, 2008

DVD Review: Paul McCartney - Ecce Cor Meum

Paul McCartney does not know how to read or write formal music notation, which seems incomprehensible considering the song catalog accredited to his name. Even more unfathomable, though, is that on top of the hundreds of pop songs he’s written, he’s also composed three orchestral works without understanding the rules and methods of classical composition.

McCartney issued his most recent classical piece, a choral work entitled Ecce Cor Meum, on compact disc in September 2006. The work’s concert premiere, recorded in November of the same year at London’s Royal Albert Hall, now sees its release on digital videodisc.

Over an hour in its entirety, this live performance of Ecce Cor Meum illustrates that McCartney’s gift for melody is by no means exclusive to pop music. In an exquisite synergy of voice and instrument, this four-movement work melds the talents of soprano Kate Royal, three choirs, a pipe organist, and full orchestra into a cohesive piece of music. Countermelodies within the orchestra intertwine and offset distinct vocal lines from the choirs, the combined sound one of majestic power yet also gentle, almost solemn execution. Ms. Royal maintains an unassuming grace throughout, her exhilarating voice shining at the appropriate times while never distracting from the overall production. Most impressive, though, is how Ecce Cor Meum achieves an austere impression while being accessible to anyone unfamiliar with classical form.

In an accompanying documentary, “Creating Ecce Cor Meum,” McCartney discusses the origins and development of this choral work. Commissioned in the late 1990s, he’d barely commenced with the project before the death of Linda McCartney forced him into a solid year of creative inactivity and bereavement. Slowly returning to composing, McCartney wrote the somber yet lovely “Interlude (Lament),” which segues the second and third movements, as a tribute to his late wife. It’s with that spirit–an enduring sense of loss and love–that this entire work assumes its humble magnificence.

Towards the end of the live performance, a camera catches McCartney watching from the audience, looking pensive if not a bit melancholy. His daughter, Stella, sits at his side. It’s a moment of candid reflection, perhaps of all the work that’s coming to fruition on the stage, perhaps of memories that inspired this piece in the first place. Incidentally, Ecce Cor Meum translates in English to “Behold My Heart,” which, considering the context in that it was created, in knowing how McCartney has long relied more on emotion than formal or even logical technique to create music, such a title seems entirely appropriate.