RAVI SHANKAR: Sitar Concertos and other Works – Ravi Shankar, sitar/ Yehudi Menuhin, violin/ Jean-Pierre Rampal, flute/ London Philharmonic Orchestra & London Symphony Orchestra/ André Previn and Zubin Mehta. EMI

by | Jul 2, 2005 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

RAVI SHANKAR: Sitar Concertos and other Works – Ravi Shankar,
sitar/ Yehudi Menuhin, violin/ Jean-Pierre Rampal, flute/ London
Philharmonic Orchestra & London Symphony Orchestra/ André Previn
and Zubin Mehta. EMI Gemini Series 5865552 (2 CDs: 70:54, 72:45) ***1/2:

Have you ever attended an ordinary party at which a stranger suddenly
appears and does something remarkable? I was about to leave one
recently where I met the woman who did voiceovers for the phone
company’s automated messages. When she did her “please deposit an
additional fifteen cents,” everyone cracked up. It was the peak of the
evening. A few decades ago, Ravi Shankar decided to write two sitar
concertos, probably as part of his “East meets West” campaign. By
themselves, the concertos are nothing special. Both feature traditional
thematic development. Both open with dramatic flourishes and introduce
accessible musical devices early —flowing harps, legato strings, upbeat
horns, and snappy percussion. Then Shankar’s sitar enters with its
adagio moan and whine, and the party takes off.

In Concerto No. 1, he’s clearly trying to find his element. While
trying to find the edges, he noticeably pokes through the orchestral
membrane. He’s like Johnny Depp in the formulaic Pirates of the
Caribbean: flamboyant, inventive, quirky . . . and memorable. In
Concerto No. 2, Shankar learns to integrate the orchestra more
efficiently with the wild riffs of his difficult instrument. The music
is less repetitive and takes a more chances. Like its predecessor, it
is weakest during the Adagio, when sentimentality flashes its fawning
smile. The other works on this two-disk set are more successful because
they operate in the traditional raga medium. The duet with Jean-Pierre
Rampal is satisfying and exciting. But the star cuts are the two he
performs with Yehudi Menuhin. This extraordinary violinist has no
trouble following, and sometimes leading, Shankar in his boldest
forays. Like his eminent partner, Menuhin has both hands on the
heartbeat of this music and they never stray.

— Peter Bates
 

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