S&H Concert and CD  review

Indian Music Concert and CD-live label launch Satish Prakash (shehnai) and Mahavir Prasad (bansuri & shehnai) with Gladwin Charles (tabla) Purcell Room, London 6 April 2001 (PGW)

This trio of Delhi musicians is commencing a week's UK tour with the Asian Music Circuit, which was launching its own CD label at the concert. It was a typically intimate event, which brought a large mixed audience to share the obvious delight in spontaneous music-making of the two brothers and their accomplished, inventive tabla colleague Gladwin Charles, who ensured that all the flights of fancy were underpinned with a firm underlying beat, and had several opportunities himself to take wing with tabla solos, accompanied by simple repetitive tunes supplied by the brothers.

As is usual there were no programme notes and the spoken announcements were quiet and inscrutable. No matter, the music spoke for itself. There was no inappropriate amplification and the five microphones seemed to be there mainly for recording purposes.

The shenhai is the instrument of celebration in India, its bright tone something of a cross between oboe and trumpet ideally heard out of doors. Satish Prakash brought suitable moderation to his playing in the small hall, and Mahavir Prasad supported in the first set on a second shehnai, which he muted by putting the metal bell of the instrument down on a soft pad, producing an attractive veiled, mellow tone as he shadowed his brother. It was hard to hear the accompanying tanpura during this first set, as its tones were absorbed by the drone supplied by an electronic machine. This balance was soon righted and all went well throughout an interestingly varied evening. To my ears, the most satisfying part was a solo performance on a large bansuri (bamboo keyless flute) by Mahavir Prasad, a leading disciple of the great Hariprasad Chaurasia. Its delicate, breathy tone was ideally heard in the intimacy of the Purcell Room.

I was less convinced by the shenhai/bansuri duets in the second half, an experiment not previously tried in UK. To my ears, the bansuri was just too delicate and intimate to match the robust brassy, extrovert shenhai, a hybrid trumpet blown through a double reed, and Satish Prakash seemed to have difficulty in finding more than a few quiet notes when it was his turn to recede into the supporting role. The microphone for the bansuri was close, that for the shenhai well forward, and I anticipate that a good balance will be achieved for the recording.

I have been supplied with promotional copies of two of the first releases of Asian Music Circuit concerts recorded live for the AMC Music from India label. Brij Narayan (son of the renowned sarangi maestro Ram Narayan) plays Rag Sri [61.37] on sarod with Partha Sarathy Mukherjee (tabla) on AMC 0019. The brief notes indicate that there are some six sections in their presentation of their chosen rag and it is regrettable that these are not indexed or given as tracks on the CD. (See the review of Nimbus'THE RAGA GUIDE A survey of 74 Hindustani Ragas)

The same criticism applies to the four parts of the rendering of Rag Shyam Kalyam by the brothers Pandits Rajan and Sajan Misra from Varanasi at a concert in Slough taped in 1992. Short measure at 41.30, but do not be put off - it is a happy journey from a serious contemplative beginning in the depths of the lower registers as the rag is built note by note, culminating with an eventual outburst of uninhibited gaiety several octaves higher, with a satisfying background of tanpura, harmonium and sweeps across a lyre-like instrument, the surmandal.

The recordings are vivid and clear, with no distortion, and enhanced by the appreciative audience murmuring. Presentation and notes are fairly basic but adequate, and at the Purcell Room concert they were being sold at a reasonable £7 each.

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Peter Grahame Woolf

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