While Ustad Mahmud Mirza continued his exploration of rare ragas, Ustad Iqbal Ahmed Khan turned to an old one known for challenging musicians

It was the coldest day of the season and the drop in mercury had broken the record of the past 44 years. But this was not enough to dampen the enthusiasm of music lovers who filled the Stein Auditorium at India Habitat Centre in New Delhi to nearly its capacity the other day. They had braved the weather to listen to Ustad Mahmud Mirza’s sitar recital and Ustad Iqbal Ahmed Khan’s vocal performance in a programme organised by Delhi Sangeet Sabha, and they did not return home disappointed. In fact, the concert ushered in the new year in great style.

A year ago, Ustad Mahmud Mirza had sprung a surprise at connoisseurs by playing raga Barwa, which is seldom heard in music concerts these days. Until the middle of the last century, it used to be a favourite of vocalists — especially those belonging to the Agra gharana — but instrumentalists were not too fond of it. In a similar vein, this time Mirza chose Gavati, a raga popularised by the legendary Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan but not attempted by many instrumentalists. He offered a leisurely alap, displaying the typical Kirana badhat and its associated techniques as also his masterly touch. Being a prime disciple of Pandit Jivanlal Mattoo, who had learnt for decades from the legendary Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan (known also as Bahre Wahid Khan), he remained true to the systematic architectural style of his gharana that pays special attention to building up the raga-roop by placing brick upon brick of notes and note patterns. He dazzled with his unique mizrab work, especially in the jhala section. In his instrumental techniques, Ustad Mahmud Mirza carries forward the legacy handed down to him by his maternal uncle and first guru Ustad Haider Husain Khan, a doyen of the Jaipur-Senia gharana, and a much-respected sitar maestro in pre-Independence India. After playing an elaborate alap, Mirza seamlessly entered the jod and jhala sections and showed how an aesthetically conceived jhala did not necessarily have to turn into a veritable crescendo.

For Ustad Mahmud Mirza, tradition is like an ever-flowing river that you cannot cross twice. Continuity and change are its two sides. Therefore, it was not surprising that he placed an added emphasis on the Madhyam and accorded it prominence even while tackling the uttaranga notes (those that come in the upper part of the octave, usually Pancham and beyond). This lent a special flavour to his Gavati, and listeners were treated to a new interpretation of the raga.

Mirza concluded his sitar recital with a charming madhya laya gat in Mishra Khamaj. Delhi gharana tabla maestro Pandit Subhash Nirwan accompanied him with restrained virtuosity, while Jagdish Kumar handled the tanpura.

Delhi gharana exponent Ustad Iqbal Ahmed Khan made an apt choice in the old raga Puriya. He sang two traditional bandishes in bada and chhota khayal and proved himself to be a worthy successor of his guru, the late Ustad Chand Khan. Puriya offers a challenge to musicians as they have to take great care to keep it away from Marwa. However, for performers like Iqbal Ahmed Khan who had the good fortune of learning from an acharya like Chand Khan for decades, these are minor trifles. He accorded due prominence to Gandhar, explored the beautiful meadows of the raga in the mandra saptak and displayed Dhaivat-Gandhar sangati along with delicious swoops from Nishad to teevra Madhyam. He concluded his recital with a thumri in Manjh Khamaj. While his khayals were a testimony to his taleem and taiyari, they mostly provided cerebral enjoyment rather than emotional pleasure. His thumri, however, failed to cut much ice.

Ustad Iqbal Ahmed Khan was ably accompanied by young Akbar Latif Khan on tabla and Kareem Niyazi on harmonium, while Anis Ahmed Khan provided him vocal support.