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with Balu Raguraman (Violin) & Phalgun (mridangam)

Bhavan Centre, West Kensington, 10 October 2010

A strong husband/wife team shared this splendid evening at the Bhavan.

Shashank Subramanium, first encountered at Darbar 2009, has developed into maybe the leading Indian bansuri flutist.

The artists were introduced by their comprehensive CVs, but there was no help with the actual music to be heard. Shashank announced his items in a way which was not intelligible to uninitiated Westerners amongst his audience; we were even encouraged to choose ragas we would like to hear, underlining that Indian classical music making is largely improvised.

For most of an hour and a half Shashank demonstrated his virtuosity on flutes of two sizes, incorporating newly developed techniques of "multi flute transposed fingering" and "dual octave production" which we had to take on trust. Tireless in his enthusiasm and energy, he seemed reluctant to finish his set, which began very late and overran his allotted time, concluding with an extra "simple piece" which was far from simple ! He was ably accompanied by Balu Raguraman, a distinguished teacher at Bhavan, shadowing Shashank's phrases on violin and interposing mellifluous short solos (non-vibrato - link with baroque string-playing !) and by Parapulli Phalgun, a discreet percussionist who gave pleasure on the mridangam, without indulging in the competitive virtuosity which is sometimes a notable component of these concerts. There was no tanpura; just a "drone box" I presume, though I couldn't see it.

Shirisha Shankank introduced her solo dances charmingly, illustrating for us details of the mimed story-telling, one of them about a sometimes naughty little boy whose mother did not realise that he was the God Shiva...

From a Chenai review I learned that Sirisha Shashank is 'a fine, complete dancer and also an accomplished vocalist, all set to win fame for herself in her own right and steal the thunder from her husband'.

This confirmed my suspicion that the recorded accompaniment, about which we were told nothing, featured her husband on flute, but I was unprepared to learn that the singing was by the dancer herself !

As at our last visit to Bhavan, we found that music followed by dance made for an excellent entertainment.

The sound quality as transmitted to us this evening was relatively free of the distortion which sometimes bedevils Indian classical music concerts, nor was it generally overloud, though some notes burst out disproportionately.

But one still regretted the forest of conspicuous microphones on stage and being deprived of the possibility to hear Shashank's bamboo flutes in their acoustic purity, so that a Western concertgoer might put them in context with the familiar baroque flutes and and recorders which we are used to hearing unamplified; this the more so since the smallish audience was encouraged to come to the front block of six rows of seats, where most of us could have been accommodated.

I have been assured by Bhavan's adminstrative manager that "Although I sympathise with your 'no amplification' campaign, I am afraid it would take a long time to persuade the musicians here and in India about this !!!".*

That stance is incomprehensible, given that next morning, putting one of Shashank's newest discs onto our player, we were confronted with the gentle purity of his bansuri's 'scintillating, primal tones - - the most organic and ancient of all instruments' in perfection.

Shashank has released over 50 CDs and two DVDs. His Sundara DVD is beautifully filmed and recorded, and it offers, for a modest £8, the incontrovertible proof of the reasonableness of my campaign to help persuade Western music-lovers not to sideline the beauties of Indian music live in the convivial atmosphere of London's Bhavan Centre.

Peter Grahame Woolf

* Response 13 Oct 2010 from Shashank Subramanyam :
Your review of the concerts made an interesting reading. I do agree that Indian Music performances tend to be too loud most of the times and personally I would love to play acoustic, where ever there is a possibility - - Regards, Shashank