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Indian Music concert review:

RAAGS OF THE RAIN Uday Bhawalkar & Sunanda Sharma Purcell Room, London 28 July 2002 (PGW)


In connection with their annual Summer School for North Indian Classical Music at S.O.A.S., part of the University of London, the Asian Music Circuit presented these two artists in residence at the first of two recitals at the Purcell Room. Indian classical music has become increasingly available in UK concerts and recordings during the last half-century, and it now has a substantial following amongst British music-lovers, albeit still only as a delightful exotic novelty. There is a special atmosphere, which appreciative audiences bring to live concerts of this music. There are also some strange rituals, as strange as those at western symphony concerts may be perceived by visitors from other cultures!

The dhrupad singer Uday Bhawalkar spent most of the first quarter hour tuning his assistants' two tanpuras (they supply the drone-harmony background) and the drummer sat waiting for most of an hour whilst Bhawalkar sang, before he was invited to join in! Usually there are no helpful programme notes available, and on this occasion the platform announcement was brief and unenlightening, with no assistance to identify the ragas chosen or their special qualities. Of particular note was the slow exposition of the notes, with steady tone (no vibrato) and continual sliding (portamento) between the notes, controlled with consummate artistry. There was however an apparent repetitiveness of similar flourishes which over extended the first half of a long evening for non-cognoscenti.

Sunanda Sharma was more easily entertaining in the kyal which she sang, supported with a rich tapestry of instruments besides the ubiquitous tanpura. The Indian harmonium and sarangi shadowed her melodies, the latter uncommonly close to vocal tone. After a shorter delay than in the dhrupad set, the percussionist joined in on tabla and had some spectacular solo spots. She related well to her colleagues and (in English) to us.

Everyone should take an opportunity to experience a concert of Indian Classical Music; the second of these two recitals will feature the virtuoso singing brothers Rajan & Sajan Misra and one of the most renowned exponents of the sarod, Buddhadev DasGupta, who is featured in an important book, The Raga Guide, its covers strengthened by the attachment of four CDs which survey 74 Hindustani ragas, the best aid I know towards understanding this music.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Do click onto the two highlighted links, which give extensive illustrated background to the Summer School (which PGW attended in 1999) and about recordings, including those CDs with The Raga Guide. Buddhadev DasGupta and Rajan & Sajan Misra perform at 7.30 p.m. 31 July, also at the Purcell Room. (MB)

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