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Rags Jaijaivanti, Kalyan etc   Ustad Sultan Khan (sarangi) & Shaukat Hussain Khan (tabla) Live recordings at Royal College of Music, London, October 1990 NAVRAS NRCD 0112/3; [77'03"] & [73' 00"]

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This generously filled double CD was launched with a ceremonial presentation during a notable Royal Festival Hall concert in November 1999, as a tribute to a very great musician who, together with Ram Narayan, has been responsible for an upsurge of interest in this bowed string instrument (two of the rags had previously been issued as one of Navras's earliest releases, NRCD 0004).

The sarangi, one of the most demanding and daunting of Indian classical instruments, became something of an endangered species, because it was more usually heard as an accompanying instrument for the voice (to which its sound comes closest) and sarangi players remained in the shadow of vocalists; with the decline of courtesans, many sarangi players lost their jobs and the traditions faded. Even more damaging was the emergence of the cruder, and much easier, bellows harmonium, which came to replace in common usage the far more demanding sarangi. However, a few kept the flame alight, and of these Ustad Sultan Khan is perhaps the most endearing of those still playing regularly. Like most of his colleagues, he was grounded in vocal music and indeed sings, as well as providing accompaniment for his colleague's tabla solos, in this concert, which I was privileged to attend and retain vivid memory.

With its three gut playing strings, and additional sympathetic strings, tuning and intonation remain a constant care; only the most gifted players can control tone and intonation, and the bowing technique is equally challenging. Sultan Khan's tone is uncommonly mellifluous and this is one of the most beautiful classical Indian concerts available on CD.

Five rags are represented, some of them not often played, with several of the performances continuous for 30 - 40 minutes, which enables the listener to become completely rapt up in the music. There are long, slow expositions of alap, with infinitely subtle ornamentation, bending of the notes, slides and graces, and long afterwards there are rhythmic duels with the tabla in rapid flurries of astonishing virtuosity. There is really no complete substitute for being present and sharing the communication and enjoyment which Indian musicians well in tune with each other show on their faces.

The remastering and reissue of this complete concert is impeccable and the live atmosphere is tangible. Just one small regret; if Navras is to involve Western music lovers more successfully in their very successful operation, they would do well to include translations of the spoken introductions which are common in these live concerts (sometimes quite lengthy enough to make us conscious of being outsiders!) - here totalling about 3 minutes, tracked separately so that they can be skipped.


Peter Grahame Woolf

Try also Ram Naryan (sarangi) on Nimbus NI 5119 [illustrated], 5183 & 5245. All are fully recommendable studio recordings, fully documented, PGW

Further discs to explore:


Peter Grahame Woolf

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