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Window to a master's intense art

Padma Vibhushan
Pt Bhimsen Joshi

Rs 130 (for two cassettes)

Pandit Bhimsen Joshi has just received the Padma Vibhushan, and HMV, which, as the sleeve note tells us, "has had the singular privilege of recording all genres from this sadhaka", pays tribute with a double album.

O kartaar is addressed to the creator "whose effulgence lights up a dark world". It is fittingly set to Lalit-Bhatiyar, a combination raga incorporating two morning melodies. Coupled with the awesome dexterity with which Joshi blends these disparate melodies is the double-hued emotional expanse he paints. He sings Bhatiyar with austere staccato passages, and suddenly, from nowhere, you find this plaintive ma-dha-ma-ma Lalit phrase (O kartaar) breaking in. This happens a handful of times in this recording, and each time, for this reviewer, it was a deeply moving moment. Bhatiyar holds a straight, rational conversation with the kartaar, and it takes just one entreaty in Lalit to melt him! Lalit Bhatiyar is a great musical experience.

The second piece in Jogiya, Hari ka bhed na paya, is mastered with a lot of reverb, besides which there is pretty little you can complain about, but it pales in comparison with O kartaar. This jhap taal composition is probably one of Joshi's more recent recordings, for he sings in the black 1 (C sharp) key. Most of his earlier recordings are in the higher black 2 (E flat).

An older Brindavan Sarang opens Side B, which means the pieces in this compilation are not organised chronologically. Rather, the idea seems to proceed from morning ragas like Lalit Bhatiyar and Jogiya, through afternoon ragas like Brindavan Sarang, onto night ragas like Durga and Durbari. Tum rab tum sahab in Brindavan Sarang, set to Jhap taal, brings back a younger and totally unhurried Joshi. The teen taal dhrut composition Jaaon mein tope balihari is replete with fine filigree, and contrasts with the stately, broad sweep of the preceding jhap taal composition in the same raga.

The next inclusion, Kripa sarovar kamal manohar, is a bhajan, and a bit of a let-down. Joshi doesn't seem to have his heart in it, and the orchestra, with its unrelenting xylophone and rhythm ensemble, doesn't inspire him either. The Sant Eknath abhang in Marathi, Majhe mahera Pandhari, is more to Joshi's liking. Volume 2 begins with the vilambit composition Tu ras khan re in Durga. This sounds like a young Joshi - throughout this tape we hear him in varying timbres. The pleasant Durga (it only has full tones, and no melancholic half tones) acquires great intensity in his improvisation. It is followed by his dhrut favourite, Chatur sugara balamva. If there can be such an emotion as cheerful intensity, this is it!

The very short Puriya dhrut that follows (Baje Khanana) catches a more sombre Joshi. Charan dhar aavo is sung in a higher E, but what emerges is a deeper-voiced, and very prayerful Abhogi.

Also included is the duet between Joshi and Manna Dey, Ketaki gulab juhi, from the film Basant Bahar. Joshi sings for the hero's rival, and of course, the hero has to get the better of him, but it seems to be an unfair contest: Joshi sings Basant, while Manna Dey gets to sing phrases from Basant and an additional raga - Bahar!

A medium-paced Shuddha Kalyan (Batiyan mora) opens Side B. Tu Hai Muhammad Sha, a dhrut ek taal composition in Suha Kanada, follows. Jhanak jhanakva, the Darbari composition that Joshi admirers pine for, is here too, but it is just a teaser. What is missing is a slower Darbari, where you get to savour the beauty of the tenderly held gandhar (sharp third) and the hauntingly oscillating dhaivat (flat sixth).

For thumri-lovers, there is Jadu bhareli kaun albeli naar. Joshi has recorded the compositions of the Haridasa saints in Kannada, and this genre is represented by Tunga teeradi ninta suyativara, a song in praise of Raghavendra Swami, a saint Joshi reveres. Ramya hi swargahuni Lanka is taken from the Marathi film Swayamwar Jhale Siteche, and is full of the dramatic movements of raga Hindol.

The tape concludes with Jo bhaje Hari ko sada, a bhajan in Bhairavi that also concludes most Joshi concerts.

Ananth Vaidyanathan, who along with K Jaiswal has compiled the album, rightly says Joshi's intense, pious, soul-stirring vocalism provides a window that enables common people to access a heady and intellectual classical art.

Some details of where the items were sourced, and the years in which they were recorded, would have helped the listener in following this great artiste's career.

S R Ramakrishna

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