See Holland's review below:
Behold: McCartney as Classical Composer
Paul McCartney is known, to grossly understate his reputation, for songs of graceful melodic equilibrium, a plaintive quietness and above all a civility uncommon to either the rough edges of rock ’n’ roll or the pervasive cruelties of postwar classical music.
From time to time he has tried to transfer these talents to bigger, heavier old-school formats, the latest example being “Ecce Cor Meum,” a kind of oratorio for mixed choirs, soprano and orchestra written in memory of his first wife, Linda, and played at Carnegie Hall on Tuesday night. From a center box, surrounded by fellow celebrities, the composer acknowledged the hoots and cries of a camera-crazy, banner-waving full house that seemed almost reluctant to turn its attention to the stage.
Someone who has done as much for music as Mr. McCartney deserves to write any piece of music he wants and have it respectfully listened to. In “Messiah” land, however, he finds himself occupying alien territory. The bigness of the McCartney sensibility lies in its smallness. Increasing the weight it carries does not make it deeper in quality. Rather it sinks both music and message into a kind of viscous sentimentality.
Using a vocabulary of singing strings, pounding timpani, brass flourishes and virtuoso outbursts from the organ, the Paul McCartney we value translates poorly. The native wistfulness becomes portentous, the irony oratorical and overly sweet, the brevity of song form stretched beyond its bounds into tedium.
Mr. McCartney has too much sense, and has had too much success, to aspire to classical forms as did — and I think to his detriment — the great Duke Ellington. The composer of “Ecce Cor Meum” (“Behold My Heart”) should be happy in the knowledge that his popular songs outweigh by virtue of their lightness all the groans and teeth-grindings, for example, of late-20th-century German opera. Meanwhile, if he chooses to take up hobbies like double-fugues or sonata form, I’ll be there to hear them.
“Ecce Cor Meum” is in four movements and one interlude. It featured an ardent, well-equipped soprano in Kate Royal, the competent singing of the Concert Chorale of New York and the American Boychoir, the excellent Orchestra of St. Luke’s and a handful of its principal string players who stepped out of the ranks as the Loma Mar Quartet.
The last provided gentle accompaniments for much of the evening’s first half, which included songs like “My Love” by Ms. Royal and “Calico Skies” sung together with the elegant light tenor of Andrew Staples. Even with Ms. Royal’s operatic delivery there was here a sense of scale that most of the oratorio exceeds.
“Ecce Cor Meum” does best when it approximates simple songfulness, whether in a vocal line or an oboe solo. In moments like these Mr. McCartney can’t quite fly free of all the piece’s gravity, but at least his wings are in motion. Gavin Greenaway conducted.