Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Hindustani Classical Vocal

This triple-disc box set issued by the UK-based label, Nimbus Records, features three-and-a-half hours of spellbinding, evocative and expertly sung and played vocal music from the Hindustani classical tradition of northern India.  Highlighted are three legendary female singers:  Sulochana Brahaspati, Girija Devi, and Shruti Sadolikar, who are each given a disc of at least sixty-five minutes to show their amazing talents and vocal gymnastics.

As typical for this breathtaking style of music, the ragas tend to start slow and, anchored by the drone of the tambura and occasional striking of the tabla, atmospheric. For the longer pieces, lasting in one case nearly an hour, the gradual buildup of tension and tempo is a wonder to behold, at least for those with the patience to listen that long.  Something of a concentrated effort on listening to the unfolding, however, is well worth the time invested.

Brahaspati, now approaching her eighties, is given that one-hour Raga Bilakshani Todi to demonstrate the full range of her impressive vocal prowess, and her miniature (well, at sixteen minutes in comparison to the first piece) Raga Mishra Bhairavi is also a tour-de-force.  Recorded at the Nimbus Records studio in England in late September 1991, the then 57-year old vocalist has a deeper voice than her compatriots, and is accompanied by sarangi player Sultan Khan and tabla performer Anindo Chatterjee.

Shruti Sadolikar is much younger, though now in her mid-sixties, and is from a subsequent generation than the other women on this set.  She has two longer ragas, the Miyan-ki Todi and the Bibhas, the former being over thirty-five and the latter twenty-seven minutes in length.  She concludes with a shorter fourteen-minute Raga Bhairavi.  Anand Krishna Kunte plays the sarangi, Chatterjee is again on tablas, and there are two tambura players, Uma Mehta and Kamaljit Kaur.  This disc was recorded at the end of February 1992 in France.

Finally, there is Girija Devi, who was recorded at the Nimbus studio, a couple of weeks after Brahaspati in October 1991.  Her first raga, the Maru Bihag, is just over a half-hour.  She has by far the shortest piece in the set, the Raga Desh at just under seven minutes, followed by the sixteen-minut Raga Pilu and the eleven-minute Dadra.  Devi is accompanied by tambura player Sudha Datta, tabla performer Subhen Chatterjee, and Ramesh Misra on sarangi.

While not as well-known as the instrumental music embodied by such internationally-acclaimed performers as Ravi Shankar, Alla Rakha, Ali Akbar Khan, and Zakir Hussain, the female vocalists featured on this box set are as technically breathtaking and emotionally evocative as their male instrumental counterparts.

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