If some of the performances at the recent Shankarlal Festival were outstanding, there were some disturbing notes as well.
The curtains came down on the 67th Shriram Shankarlal Music Festival at Kamani auditorium last week with a soulful recital by veteran vocalist Pandit Jasraj who once again proved that rigorous training, continuous practice and dedication to one’s art can help defy age. At 83, he retains his charisma and hold over his audiences by offering them melodious music in his tuneful, strong voice. As an experienced showman, he has no hesitation in taking recourse to a few gimmicks if they enhance the overall effect of his performance. Jasraj began his recital with Poorvi, a sampoorna evening raga that employs both the Madhyams as well as Komal Rishabh and Komal Dhaivat. Tradition has it that it was the most favourite raga of the legendary Sufi seer Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia.
Jasraj first sang a vilambit composition “More Lal” and elaborated the raga in his typical Mewati gharana style. However, the profusion of sargams and heavy reliance on them as a tool of elaboration is something that is entirely his own. Despite his charming aesthetic approach, one finds it a little disconcerting. His chhoot taans were also sargam-laced. He sang a chhota khayal “Tum Chale Jao Chhaila Apne Mag” and displayed some very fine layakari, giving enough space to Ramkumar Mishra to display his virtuosity on tabla. He followed it up with his trademark “Braje Basantam Navaneet Chauram” in Haveli Sangeet style. Jasraj concluded his recital with an Adana raga bhajan, “Mata Kalika”. He was accompanied by a veritable ensemble consisting of Ramkumar Mishra on tabla, Dinkar Sharma on harmonium and Sridhar Parthasarthy on mridangam, while Rattan Mohan Sharma and Ankita Joshi provided him with vocal support on tanpura. It was a befitting finale to the four-day event.
The festival opened with a sitar recital by Shujaat Khan who chose Jansammohini — a blend of ragas Kalawati and Kalyan — for the evening. He played alap, jod and jhala followed by a vilambit and a drut composition. He concluded with a thumri-like composition. Shujaat was accompanied by Amjad Khan on tabla.
It was khayal maestro Ulhas Kashalkar who stole the show that evening. He began his vocal recital with a bada khayal in raga Chhayanat, “Karat Ho Moso Neha Ki Jhoothi Batiyan” and presented it in slow Jhoomra tala. He developed the raga in the typical Gwalior style, making expert use of behlawa, bol-alap, taan and bol-taans. The use of gamak in bol-alap and taans was particularly charming, and so was his pukar. He dazzled with his virtuosity in layakari and explored newer and newer ways of arriving at the sam, choosing an unexpected moment. It was a power-packed performance replete with beautifully sculpted intricate and fast taans that would often erupt like a volcano. He joyfully sang a chhota khayal in Teen tala, “Ye Re Malaniya Goondh Lao Re” and followed it up with a taan-based tarana. There was nothing pre-meditated about his singing and it was all a product of spontaneous upaj.
Ulhas Kashalkar chose Malgunji as the second raga of the evening. This Gwalior favourite is seldom heard these days on the concert platform. It skips Pancham in the ascending section and uses both the Nishads as well as Gandhars. The Gwalior maestros fleetingly use Shuddh Nishad, and their Malgunji is a Madhyam-dominant Bageshri-ang melody. Ulhas sang the traditional bada khayal, “Ban Mein Charawat Gaiyan” and followed it up with a drut bandish, “Rain Kaari Darawan Lagi Re”. Once again, he was most impressive. He sang a composition in the jod raga Malkaun Bahar as well as a tarana in Malkauns before concluding his recital with a Bhairavi Hori, “Aayo Phagun Maas”.
Vinod Lele on tabla and Vinay Mishra on harmonium offered accompaniment with commendable understanding while Ulhas’s disciple Ojesh Pratap Singh provided vocal support at appropriate places.
M. Venkateshkumar, a Kirana singer from Dharwad who has imbibed elements of other styles too, also impressed with his riveting performance. Endowed with a powerful, well-cultivated and mellifluous voice, he sang a bada and a chhota khayal in pentatonic, Gandhar-laden raga Shankara and regaled the audience with his soulful singing. He took very little recourse to bol-alap and elaborated the raga with aakaar as well as sargam taans. It was a typical Kirana-style gradual badhat. However, at times one feels that most of his performance is pre-conceived though it does not detract from its overall effect. He also sang a Nayaki Kanhda in the Jaipur-Atrauli style reminiscent of the late Mallikarjun Mansur. Vekateshkumar concluded his recital with a Bahar followed by a Bhairavi bhajan.
Sarod maestro Biswajit Roy Chowdhury began Yaman without caring to announce the name of the raga and played a beautiful alap, followed by a slightly aggressive jod and jhala. However, expert tabla player Akram Khan of the Ajrada gharana proved to be his nemesis as he continuously kept issuing instructions into the microphone to those who were manning the audio system. The volume of his tabla ultimately overshadowed that of the sarod. While accompanying, he would suddenly launch his sallies without even waiting for a cue from the main performer. This must have been most unsettling for Biswajit as he could not give his best in Kamod and Khamaj.
Rakesh Chaurasia (flute), Rajan-Sajan Mishra (vocal) and Subhra Guha (vocal) also performed at the festival but, unfortunately, this writer could not attend their recitals.