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Uday Bhawalkar dhrupad, Manik Munde pakhawaj
Rajan and Sajan Misra khyal Sanju Sahai tabla
Mountbatten Auditorium, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan 4 August 2006

This evening at London's prime venue for Indian and Asian music (close by West Kensington station) was a happy relief, after a recent appearance of the the Misra brothers, renowned khyal singers, at South Bank Centre, billed then as Totally Indian Totally Acoustic, which it sure wasn't! The Bhavan centre is a relaxed, friendly place. Tea and samosas in the interval; people drift in to the concert late, come and go from time to time; there are children and wheelchairs, but no noise, that ensured by its being fully carpeted.

Amplification at the Bhavan for the famous Misra brothers was moderate, if unnecessary, nothing like the obscene volume at Queen Elizabeth Hall, mediated by a sound engineer who had supposed he would not be required for an acoustic night... But regrettably the Misras, evidently the chief attraction, indulged again their penchant for loud projection of their singing, asking the Bhavan engineer to make it louder, as at Queen Elizabeth Hall. There was talk between them (during the music) about microphones, monitor etc. That really should all be sorted out before the public is admitted, and to get a just result, reliance should be based primarily upon a neutral informed listener in the auditorium; not upon what the musicians themselves hear on stage, which can be very different. In truth, the Misras sing lustily, everyone was having a good time, but in that moderate sized hall (a converted church, far from full) they'd have come across fine and strong without any artificial loudening, and with a better rapport with their knowledgeable and appreciative audience.

The session which made the trek to the Bhavan fully worth while was the first half of the evening, a 70 minutes recital in some four parts by the dhrupad singer Uday Bhawalkar. Miraculously, given all the commercial pressures, dhrupad has remained a 'refined and sophisticated form of courtly classical music', its pristine nature surviving since the earliest centuries performed 'as it was more than five hundred years ago'. That surely implies creating an intimate feeling, one in which amplification ought to be resisted.

At the beginning of Uday's recital there were a few moments of magic. First the tanburas set the atmosphere with their background drone, then one of them was carefully tuned by the singer for the chosen raga (Indian concert evenings generally do not have written programmes with notes that Western concert-goers are accustomed to, so one often misses what is said by way of introduction from the stage).

Uday Bhawalkar, younger generation than Ritwik Sanyal, whose class we attended at SOAS in 2002, disciple of his same teacher from the Benares Dagar gharana who taught him, he began to intone the notes of the chosen raga without any technological help. The tone was beautiful, the audience silent and immediately drawn in to the mood of peace and contemplation which is the nature of dhrupad.

But then the amplification kicked in, and for a minute the spell was broken. But not for long, because the volume level reaching the back of the stalls was reasonable, meeting my standard of "enhancement", about the same decibel level at which we listen to Indian classical music on CD at home. I confess that peace and contemplation eluded me, and I listened to every variant of the patterns with eager concentration. The voice is tenor, I would say, but with a deep baritone timbre available to cover the wide tessituras required in full exploration of the raga. He was also to sustain a single, pure note for an inordinate length of time. Great singing, to give food for thought to those whose models are western recital and opera singers.

After surprisingly long waiting, Manik Munde joined in on pakhawaj, a mellower toned double-headed drum than the more brilliant table. His artistry was in rhythmic subtleties and timbre, supporting and matching the singer without every seeking to upstage him. Serendipitously, I left with a new CD which replicated the mood and shared expertise of this duo of musicians, and is economically presented with just the sort of information we outsiders need. In it they play Raga Yaman [UBCD 002-2006] for about an hour, and as encore a short bandish to 'poems that are usually devotional or amorous in nature...'

Wholly delightful and recommended for purchase on line from from udaybhawalkar@vsnl.com or manikmunde@yahoo.co.in.

Hear Uday in a rhythmically demanding extract and see also another recommendation from T.M.McComb for their disc of Raga Gurjari Todi (Makar Records 031).


© Peter Grahame Woolf