Shankar / LPO / Murphy

Cultural cross-fertilisation between India and the west existed long before 1966, when George Harrison visited Ravi Shankar in Varanasi and long before Shankar himself first visited Paris as a teenager while touring with his brother in the 30s. Why, then, do we consider only the more recent fruits of this process, as in this predictable pairing of Ravi Shankar's new symphony with the first violin concerto of Philip Glass.

Composed for amplified solo sitar and orchestra, Shankar's symphony resembles his three previous concertos in being interesting during the solo passages, considerably less so at other times. A different raga is used for each of the four movements, approximating a traditional symphonic plan. The first two lack meaningful engagement between soloist and orchestra despite a sprinkling of quarter-tones and, in the slow second movement, the flute and harp's echoing of the sitar. The third movement brought some much needed rhythmic excitement, while the fourth, with its extended "alap", or free solo section – elaborated with unshowy virtuosity by Shankar's daughter and pupil Anoushka – afforded a tantalising glimpse of the sitar's real magic. Little of this rubbed off on the orchestra. Shorn of harmonic duties and challenged neither rhythmically nor texturally, they homogenised into a largely wasted force.

Robert McDuffie, the soloist in the Glass piece, bravely attempted, with a range of exaggerated gestures and unintentional microtones, to breathe life into the work. The audience was treated a little more respectfully by Adams's ever popular Shaker Loops, which opened the concert. But David Murphy, who collaborated with Shankar on the symphony, never looked entirely in control throughout. Meanwhile, his players, despite giving a world premiere, looked as if they had heard it all before.

Popular Posts