Sunday, March 24, 2013

Angeles Chorus premieres Paul McCartney

By Douglas Neslund

An ambitious and well-attended performance – the first-ever on the West Coast – of “Ecce Cor Meum” by ex-Beatle Paul McCartney was undertaken by the spirited Angeles Chorale in the large space provided by Pasadena’s United Methodist Church. The 100-voiced chorus, under the baton of John Sutton, was augmented by the Concert Choir of Pasadena’s Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, well-prepared as always by their Artistic Director, Anne Tomlinson.

A 30-member Sinfonia did their collective best, but in the end, only added confusion to chaos: without a reference score, one would never know whether the musicians were playing the “right” notes … or not.  And the uncredited and excellent “Bach trumpeter” was allowed far too much volume in much of his work.

Ecce” is said to be a personal statement of “spiritual confession of sorts” that devolves into a chaotic mélange of noise (and sometimes sound) spread over too much time. As the composer himself described: “… I started writing the music and then putting my own text to it, which is probably completely the wrong way around to do it. It didn’t matter. I suppose, you know, in that respect, it meant that it was a bit less conventional.” The left-handed Mr. McCartney’s confession includes such happy babble as this:

“We may find a trace
Of a state of grace
In the saddest face
Something is there.

How the rivers flow
We may never know
But it goes to show
Something is there.”

The work, ostentatiously called an “oratorio” was written and revised over a period of eight years, and declared finished by the composer in 2001. There is a reason why the West Coast Premiere didn’t find a home until 2013. Melodies, as such, were hard to detect; any sense of musical structure impossible to sort out. “Through-composed” comes closest to the meandering framework, but after 45 minutes of “through-composed” one longed for a bit of form. It’s weak tea.

But one must applaud the Angeles Chorale and associated personnel for their bravery. One of the highlights were the children, who added gravitas to notes above the treble staff - and there were lots of stratospheric notes - giving the women of the Chorus a chance to save their voices for more exposed portions. 

Another highlight was soprano soloist Virenia Lind, whose duties were brief and difficult to hear over an orchestral accompaniment allowed to play too loudly. But what one could hear was a pure, floating sound that grew rich in lower tessitura.

Throughout, Dr. Sutton kept all in order, except for the clap-happy crowd, which ignored his movement-ending gesture requesting silence.

After intermission, a rock band replaced the Sinfonia, the children were relinquished to their parents, and the audience thinned. What followed was a trip through the 1960s phenomenon called the Beatles. It was a time when Mr. McCartney and fellow bandsmen wrote melodies, yes … melodies! And they were very good at it, the proof being the fact we remember those tunes even today.

Dr. Sutton invited all to join a sing-along on “When I’m Sixty-Four” (a look in the rear view mirror for a lot of attendees) and “Yellow Submarine.” The remaining dozen tunes were all familiar and enthusiastically performed. Many of the songs were incorrectly attributed in the concert program to McCartney, but only “Lady Madonna” and a portion of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” were claimed on his own website.


Rodney Punt said...

Thanks for taking on this review and giving it an honest assessment. Sir Paul made an unassailable contribution to the history of rock music. Let's let it rest at that.

Douglas Neslund said...