Reviews of ‘The Prelude’

High Raise

Members of Ryton Choral Society writing after the concert on December 12th 2009, when a selection from ‘The Prelude’ was premiered in Gateshead-on-Tyne:



David Murray (Choirmaster and Conductor):

From the Hexham Courant, December 18th , 2009

"Choral Society hits the perfect note for Christmas"

When it comes to the weeks before Christmas I am decidedly a Scrooge ....... I've become a bore about the difference between Advent carols which are appropriate to sing throughout December and Christmas carols which are not.  It takes a lot to squeeze the cultural grouch out of my soul. But I was persuaded to go to Ryton Choral Society's Christmas Celebration and I have to admit, grudgingly, that it cheered me up enormously.  Bring on festivity.

It was, to use that old adjective - joyous - and a great night of entertainment and involvement.  ...... It started with the familiar strains of the Christmas music from Handel's Messiah plus the obligatory Hallelujah Chorus.......

After the familiarity of the Handel we were treated to something completely different, a coup for Ryton.  We heard the world premiere performance of a selection of pieces from the Northumbrian-born composer Michael J Smith's musical homage to Wordsworth's The Prelude.

The work has been 14 years in the making and is clearly a labour of love.  Wordsworth, who started to write the poem when he was 28, described the work as being about 'the growth of my own mind'.  It was only published after his death at the age of 80 and is the most personal of his works.  Many of his many other poems are songlike, as the title of many of them as 'lyrical ballads' suggests.

The Prelude, written in blank verse, has its own rhythms which I think are better spoken than sung as recitative.  That said, much of the orchestral setting behind the words was plangent and evocative.  The relationship between William as a boy and later in maturity was beautifully evoked and the singing of the treble Ian Wright and Bishopwearmouth Young Singers was moving.  Mark Anyan, the tenor, coped well with the depths of the more philosophical pieces.

One problem for me - and perhaps for me alone - was the intrusion of Dorothy Wordsworth into the settings. I do know that the composer did so because of what he describes as their mutual understanding.  But The Prelude is pre-eminently autobiographical and to set as a duet so private a piece as 'for only then, when memory is hushed, am I at rest' is a mistake.  This worry aside the work is clearly significant.  The audience listened with close attention and were clearly appreciative...........................

Peter Lewis

Stephen Shakeshaft (Founder-principal viola of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, and one-time co-principal of the RPO and the BBC Concert Orchestra. Stephen is now much involved in chamber music recording and solo work, as well as in the Cantilena Festival on Islay (Scotland).

All of Michael’s work is moulded in the English romantic style, and the modal tonality of its cadences is reminiscent of Vaughan Williams or Gerald Finzi. “The Prelude" demonstrates a maturity in style that grew alongside his love of his native northern England, and a yearning to be there.

Vaughan Williams once remarked that the solo viola in his music was a reflection of his own voice, and Michael similarly had this craving within himself. For the listener, the work is boundless in its apparent freedom of rhythm - a subtle blending of recitative and verse. This is the hallmark of his style and is the unique thread pervading all his compositions......

Andrew Clark (Pianist, violinist, harpsichord player, composer-arranger, musical coach and one-time colleague of Michael Smith in the Noord Hollands Philharmonisch Orkest)

I always thought: if that's the Prelude, my God what's the Fugue going to be like!

Kerima Ellouise, an audience member, wrote the following poem about her reactions to Smith’s music at the memorial concert on December 18th 2010. It has been translated from the Dutch by Saskia Moerenhout and adapted by Susan Hedworth; the original poem in Dutch follows the translation.

Michael and his own Sweet Songs

Here and there
the evening plays
in fourscore window panes.
I want to wave at them,
at you
beyond the fields -

hearing your music
which fills life like it is
in the bended lake and in those
who barefoot walked along over the rolling fells -
over and over again
from chaos and confusion
seeking after truth -
gleaming, exhausted!

It was more joyous than before
when you returned to the world
in an even larger expression,
when you made
all things possible
through love and fury

between the dream and the creation –
the desolation of a ‘ruin’
and the playfulness of ‘little clocks’,
the ‘lonely lanes of Ireland’

stretching out beyond the bars -
beyond compare.

Michael and his own Sweet Songs (original version)

hier en daar
de avond
in achtentachtig raampjes

ik wilde zwaaien naar ze
en naar jou
de velden voorbij

je muziek als nieuw, als leven
in het gebogen ‘lake’ landschap en zij
die blootsvoets mee stapten

in de chaos en de verwarring, het zoeken
naar waarheid van de ziel
en dan weer uitgeput

het was telkens een blijde dag
wanneer je terugkeerde naar
een nog grotere expressie

en alles wat mogelijk was
tussen vrijheid en componeren
tussen passie, romantiek en de ernst van ruïnes

between little clocks and lonely lanes of Ireland

er is geen vergelijk, zo bevlogen
boven elke maat iets meer

Kerima Ellouise