Listening to Pandit Ravi Shankar, who is about to scale his 90th year, is itself a big deal. But I was really feeling sorry while an aide helped the maestro, sitting on the dais with his feet uncrossed, to tune the small sitar with a modified headpiece, without the famed ‘Ravi Shankar’ bass strings. The sitar has a jodi string that sounds like it is attached to a Carnatic veena, something the gold-laced silver sitar memento presented to the maestro actually resembled.
The 11-minute alap in Hameer, announced as Hameer Kalyan by the maestro with characteristic pedantry, again made me sad: the old Hameer record you can hear on the internet has an even smaller alap that is much better. The jod made me sadder. The maestro had problems maintaining pitch within a minute of its start. After some improvement, he went into drut jod, which was rough and rather raucous for him. Anoushka, his daughter, played occasionally but was comping (to borrow a Jazz term) regularly. There was a brief sawal-jawab of sorts between the maestro and his daughter, immediately after which the maestro played some encouraging lad-lapet.
The gatkari in 10.5 matras started with a short taan-toda in which the maestro suffered fret-mizrab coordination problems. About 10 minutes later the problem abated, and one was treated to music proper. There were some good double-tempo figures laced with gamaks towards the end.
The slow vilambit teental gatkari in raga Charukeshi saw the maestro playing some fairly pleasing melodic elaboration with mild rhythms and a touch of rubato. Though there were some wayward deflections and even a gross tivra madhyam once, this was the second best part of the recital. Some of the rhythm-melody compounds in triple time seemed more suited to folk music. The maestro here, however, was fully in his elements. A little later, he tried his hand at some rapid high-stroke density figures with a fair amount of success. There was again some essentially folk melody dressed in triplet rhythms in the drut ektal gatkari, and this seemed to be aided by the fact that the tala itself is in the measure of three.
A Pilu dhun aochar signalled the start of the last item. Here the maestro was in form, and so this was the most melodious and tuneful part of the recital. The fairly slow tempo sitarkhani gatkari included the inevitable Bangla kirtan, but the drut teental gatkari surprisingly featured the maestro singing in a wavering voice a song in raga Kalavati, he said, he had taught George Harrison.
Then he wound down to an aochar with a nice Khammaj portion, followed by gatkari based on a classic Nand khayal.