Here are some CDs I picked up at a sale at a chain store in Bangalore. They have an ongoing sale to clear their stocks of books, DVDs and CDs, and I found they offer the best deals on Indian classical music CDs. Here are some I picked up at 70 per cent off. If you are a classical music buff, this is a good time to grab some Diwali bargains. The sale ends October 31. (I've mentioned prices before discount).
Veenai Jayanthi Kumaresh (Shrutilaya, Rs 180): This two-CD compilation features Jayanthi, arguably the best veena player performing in Karnatik music today. The recording comes from a live concert in Sydney. The compilation is marketed by a little Chennai-based label called Sruthilaya. CD 1 begins with a varnam in raga Natta Kurinji, and features six tracks, including concert standards such as Aparadhamula (Thyagaraja) and Siddhi Vinayakam (Muthuswami Dikshitar). CD 2 offers an elaborate raga Pantuvarali (Raghuvara, Thyagaraja) and a pleasantly dancy thillana in raga Maand (Lalgudi Jayaraman). Besides mentioning that Jayanthi played in Sydney, the CD jacket offers no other details about the performance or the artistes.
M S Gopalakrishnan (Saregama, Rs 145): Among India's most highly regarded violinists, M S Gopalakrishnan is presented from two years of his career: 1972 and 1983. Of eight tracks, Bhavanuta in raga Mohana (Thyagaraja), recorded in 1972, deserves special mention. Gopalakrishnan's style borrows generously from Hindustani accents and stands in contrast to the more orthodox style of Lalgudi Jayaraman. Other ragas on the CD: Saveri, Hamsadhwani, Chala Natai, Dharmavati, Janaranjani, Manavati and Suddha Sarang. Interestingly, most tracks are from the 18th century masters, but the last, Manave Mantralaya, is by a Bangalorean composer, Padmacharan, who excelled in genres as diverse as sugama sangeeta and Yakshagana music.
Ustad Ali Akbar Khan (Saregama, Rs 295): This album, under the Pride of Bengal series, features four ragas: Todi (1961), Lajwanti (1961), Bairagi and Durgeshwari. It comes packaged in a box so flimsy that it breaks before you can even open it. That, of course, can't take away from the high quality of the maestro's music. The treble is emphasised in the first and second tracks. Ali Akbar Khan's deep-toned sarod comes into its own in the better-recorded Bairagi, which corresponds to the Karnatik raga of Revati.
Smt Siddeshwari Devi (T-Series, Rs 95): Siddeshwari Devi and Begum Akhtar are among the more famous exponents of the thumri, a romantic, 'semi-classical' form whose lyrics talk about love and longing. T Series has acquired this recording from the archives of All India Radio. It features four tracks, on which Siddeshwari Devi is accompanied by equally illustrious musicians Chaturlal (tabla) and Sabri Khan (sarangi). At less than Rs 30 (after discount), this album is a steal!
Tajurba (Mystica Music, Rs 195): The harmonium is popular as an accompanying instrument in Hindustani music. It is not so widely heard as a solo instrument, though. Artistes such as Ravindra Katoti are now trying to promote its solo possibilities. Katoti has founded the Bijapure Harmonium Foundation in Bangalore to honour his guru Pandit Rambhau Bijapure, who has accompanied five generations of musicians on the harmonium (He passed away two years ago). Despite the hostility towards the harmonium as a solo instrument (Nehru had banned it from All India Radio), occasional solo albums make it to the music stores. This is one such. Tajurba features the harmonium playing of Ustad Bhure Khan, who plays ragas Chandrakauns, Bhairavi and Pahadi. Bhure Khan is accompanied on the harmonium by his disciple Dr Dinkar Sharma, the keyboard by Aman Nath, and the tabla by Athar Hussain.
Bhure Khan hails from Aligarh and was mentored by his father Ustad Abid Hussain Khan of the Agra gharana. The harmonium can't play the bends and graces of Indian music, which is why many treat it with contempt. But the instrument, in the right hands, has a reedy beauty all its own, and can charm, like its European cousin, the accordion. Bhure Khan plays fluently and explores the many possibilities of the instrument across three-plus octaves. Admittedly, the harmonium can't capture the subtle tonalities of Indian music, like the sitar or the sarod can. But this an album for those who long to hear the harmonium sound in the foreground rather than as an accompanying instrument. The keyboard (mostly on piano tone) provides a swarmandal-like support, filling up the spaces between Bhure Lal's phrasing. This is no fusion album, although the presence of the keyboard may suggest so. Of the three tracks, I liked Bhairavi the best, especially for the ghazal-like, quicksilver, unexpected twists and turns Bhure Khan invests it with.