Paul McCartney's Liverpool Oratorio

Considering how lame classical efforts by pop stars can be, the Liverpool Oratorio — commissioned by Paul McCartney’s hometown orchestra for its 150th anniversary — is a surprisingly engaging and only occasionally embarrassing piece of work. An oratorio is typically defined as an unstaged drama for soloists, chorus, and orchestra, based on a religious subject, and the main subject of McCartney’s story is — Paul McCartney, or at least a McCartneyesque stand-in called Shanty. Chronicling Shanty’s birth, boyhood, marriage, and the ultimate spiritual resolution of everything, the story tells you more than you want to know about some things (Shanty’s — or is it McCartney’s? — domestic squabbles) and less about others (the word ”Beatles” doesn’t exist). But since McCartney was wise enough to cowrite the piece with an experienced film and theater composer, Carl Davis, the music gets you through: Somehow the two of them came up with a pastiche of mildly romantic orchestral styles that accommodates McCartney’s pop gifts very comfortably, and there are more than a few moments of real beauty and originality. Is Paul McCartney now a ”classical” composer? Not exactly: Writing the piece yourself is still sort of a minimum requirement. But — with some help, of course — he has upped the stakes in the whole dismal subgenre of rock-types-going-classical. Since you can’t really tell exactly who wrote what here, however, it does seem bad form for McCartney to have officially titled the piece Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Oratorio, even if it is his life story. Though if Jesus Christ had written Handel’s Messiah, maybe he’d have done the same. B-

Paul McCartney's Liverpool Oratorio
  • Music