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Paul McCARTNEY (b. 1942)
Ecce Cor Meum (Behold my heart) (1998-2006) [56.53]
Kate Royal (soprano), Colm Carey (organ), Mark Law (Piccolo trumpet), David Theodore (oboe)
Boys of Magdalen College Choir, Oxford; Boys of King's College Choir, Cambridge;
London Voices, Director: Terry Edwards, Chorus Master: Ben Parry
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields/Gavin Greenaway
rec. Abbey Road Studios, 13-17 March 2006; organ recorded at the Tower of London.
EMI CLASSICS 0946 3 70424 2 7 [56.53]

also available Digital download: 00946 3 70423 5 9

Well, this really is a refreshing surprise! A wonderful record in almost all respects and from one of the master composers of popular music of the twentieth century.

About eight years ago the then Master of Magdalen College, Anthony Smith CBE asked Paul McCartney to write "a choral piece which could be sung by young people the world over - something to rival Handel’s "Messiah". Not long after this Paul’s wife Linda died of cancer. Thus the original request and reason for this splendid work became clear.

A recent review of this work in "The Gramophone" [David Gutman: Awards 2006 issue] has been deeply critical of this work but I really wonder whether the reviewer has listened closely or read the notes. After all he questioned who the work was for and why the work had been written? Admittedly this is in a once-respected magazine that has chosen yet again a recording of Mahler - and he’s a composer who really does spin out ideas - as their Disc of the Year! He also brings up the hoary old chestnut of ex-Beatles being unable to write music up to former glories. Pleeese! …The Beatles split up thirty-six years ago and all the members have produced very good music - and admittedly some dross - since.

This is certainly light years from the embarrassment of Deep Purple’s piece with orchestra or the doodling of Emerson Lake and Palmer thirty years ago. In fact I think that this work may be adversely affected by being written by a composer branded with the term "popular". It certainly compares well to Tavener and co.

Ecce Cor Meum is clearly going to appeal to listeners of "Classic FM" as much as those of Radio 3 but I love its youthful positive nature and melodic invention. Hans Keller pointed out that Bartók was able to bring a fresh approach to quartets because he wasn’t a string player. I think this is true of McCartney here. I don’t find the piece Victorian at all nor is the first movement "Spiritus" overtly reminiscent of Brahms or other nineteenth century composers. Paul McCartney has picked up from the choir of Magdalen - my old school - the sound of the choral tradition and given it a modern setting using his genius for producing accessible melody. In "Gratia" you recognize the writer of "Yesterday" but there’s resilient steel amongst the emotion. I can see this becoming a much-loved piece and why not? Not all great music needs to cause the brow to furrow or leave the listener emotionally drained. The soprano Kate Royal is quite superb here and let no one dare mention the - to my ears - fearfully predictable Lloyd-Webber! In the "Interlude" David Theodore’s oboe is splendidly evocative and this appears at just the right moment; a pastoral symphony for 2006? As someone who has lost, a year ago, a much-loved sister like Linda of cancer this is very touching and appropriate to a strong-minded and highly principled human being. "Musica" shows off the boys’ voices splendidly and is again in a contrasting mood to what has come before: "JOY". Good string playing too! The last movement entitled "Ecce Cor Meum" is very inventive with the soprano first then the choir and the marvelous organ played very well by Colm Carey. The words avoid cloying sentimentality and all concerned bring this piece, with inventive melody at every turn, to a brilliant conclusion.

I recommend this to all with open ears and minds and hope to hear this work at the College I walked past for seven years on my way to school!

David R Dunsmore


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