Manju Mehta’s sitar recital was classy, and Kumar Mardur proved himself yet again as a musician of great promise

Recently Learnquest Academy of Music, a non-profit educational institution devoted to providing formal instruction in Indian classical music in Boston, USA, organised a spectacular Hindustani classical music festival in the city in collaboration with Gururao Deshpande Sangeet Sabha.

The music festival commenced with a Hindustani classical vocal recital by promising vocalist Kumar Mardur, the son and disciple of Pandit Somanath Mardur. Kumar has also had the rare privilege of training under the great exponent of Kirana Gharana, Pandit Firoz Dastur. Hailing from the rich musical traditions of Dharwad, Kumar Mardur enthralled the audience with his sonorous and mellifluous exposition. He chose the popular evening melody raga Purya Dhanashree. After the prefatory ‘alapchari’ in the ‘anibadh’ (non- rhythmic) mode, Kumar took up the traditional ‘bada-khayal bandish’, “Ab to Rutuman Ayo Na Bolungi Tum se Pyare” in vilambit ektal, a rhythmic cycle of 12 beats for an elaborate delineation. The aesthetically chiselled presentation of the raga was enhanced by crystal clear ‘taan’ patterns and an enviable command over ‘laya’. The rendition of drut teental bandish, “Paayaliya Jhankar Mori” was punctuated with dazzling ‘taankari’. Pandit Ashis Sen Gupta’s rhythmic improvisations elicited a lot of applause from the audience. Ravindra Katoti’s nuanced harmonium accompaniment provided alluring touches, thereby sculpting the gestalt of the raga with elegance and precision. Kumar’s masterful execution of a variety of taans in the tarana in raga Purya Dhanashree was noteworthy. Endowed with a mellifluous voice that travels through the three octaves with ease, Kumar’s rendition of the beautiful thumri “Saiyya Nahi Aye” in raga Desh meticulously touched upon each filament of amorous feeling. The ‘badhat’ of the rhythmic cycle ‘Deepchandi’ reaching a crescendo in the energetic and galvanising ‘laggi’ section, was indeed a testimony to the virtuosity of the tabla maestro Pandit Ashis Sen Gupta.

The second concert of the evening was the sitar recital by Manju Mehta who can undoubtedly be ranked among some of the best women instrumentalists of our country like the surbahar exponent Annapurna Devi and the sarodiya Sharan Rani Bakliwal. Sister of the internationally renowned maestro Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhat, hailing from a rather rare breed of female classical instrumentalists , Manju Mehta was the epitome of grace and captured the hearts of the listeners by the sheer imaginative brilliance of her melodic improvisations as a creative performer of exceptional calibre. She began her recital with the soul-stirring night melody raga Jogkauns, extensively popularised by some of the leading Hindustani vocalists of Maharashtra. Manju Mehta’s delineation of this majestic raga showcased her ability to impart an interesting idiosyncratic flavour to this melody, albeit within the traditional context of peerless vintage compositions like “Sughar Var Payo” and “Pir parayi jane nahi balamva”. In her unique style, a fine amalgamation of ‘tantrakari ang’ (instrumental based style) and the ‘gayaki ang’ (vocal-based style), the sitarist captured the microtonal inflections and intricacies, evocatively communicating the emotional richness of this melody. Expansive and leisurely stretches of alap were followed by imaginative jod and scintillating jhalas sequences in a cascading, linear development of this melody, marked by an ingenious use of both gandhars and nishads. A tantalising touch of komal nishad seldom used in this raga had a haunting appeal. Manju Mehta’s rendition of the madhya laya gat composition in roopak tal and the fast-paced drut composition in ‘teental’ in Jogkauns left a tremendous impact on the audience. Never degenerating into mere pyrotechnics and gimmickry, with a distinctive instrumental ‘voice’ and inherent musicality, Manju Mehta’s sitar recital proved to be aesthetically appealing. Uday Raj Karpur on the tabla executed several complex ‘sangathis’ in rupak and teen tal with inimitable grace and poise, enhancing the rhythmic appeal of the ‘gat’ compositions.