Rare and Glorious: Ravi Shankar Revisited

Virtuoso Shankar doing what he does best(Photo: Alexandra Ignatenko)
Virtuoso Shankar doing what he does best(Photo: Alexandra Ignatenko)

Among new recordings we’ve received, this one was brought to my attention, coming as it does, so close to Ravi Shankar‘s 90th birthday that I wrote about recently.

Times Square Records, in conjunction with India’s Saragama Records has released “Rare and Glorious,” some of the best from this great Indian musician and some never-before released recordings from India. There’s an informative bio included that gives us an overall picture of this marvelous performer and his career.

Unfortunately, the sources of the recordings chosen are not annotated as fully as could be wished. The original release label number is given, along with the year, but you’re left to assume the actual recording dates correspond (1962 to 1988?). Still, this is a minor quibble for a release that more than lives up to its title.

The selections on this two-disc set offer a nice variety, both in terms of length (6 minutes to 24 minutes) and mood. The opening piece, “Raga Devgiri Bilawal” (7:39), not too daunting a length for those new to listening to Indian music, and Ravi is accompanied by the great Alla Rakha on the tabla (Indian hand drums).

The next selection, “Raga sindhu Bhairavi” (19:39), adds to the tabla, the tamboura (stringed instrument that creates the continuous droning sound in the background), and also features another virtuoso soloist, Ali Akbar Khan playing the sarod (another prominent stringed instrument).

There is a long solo piece (22:03) for Ravi and a couple more shorter ones (accompanied) to end disc one. The second disc has three longer pieces (each over 20 minutes) taking us deeper into this realm of music. The emotions expressed range from deep meditative contemplation to exhilarating outgoing energy.

Rare and Glorious is a nice addition to the catalog of recordings from this great artist. The ones I had been most familiar with were from Angel Records (EMI) dating from the 1950s through the 70s. I believe most of those have been remastered and are also available on CDs.

And there are, of course, more recent recordings from Ravi Shankar: I particularly enjoyed Full Circle, a 2000 concert recording from Carnegie Hall in which he performs with his daughter, Anoushka, who is a fine virtuoso herself, and is now continuing her father’s tradition of presenting Indian music to new audiences in creative ways.

But still, if you want an introduction to Ravi Shankar in which you can hear performances from a span of his recording career, Rare and Glorious is an inviting way to begin this musical journey the East.

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