David Murphy / Anoushka Shankar / London Philharmonic Orchestra

Ravi Shankar: Symphony

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It would be hard to overstate the significance Ravi Shankar has had in introducing Indian classical music to Western music, both pop and classical, because of his strong impact on the music and aesthetic of George Harrison and Philip Glass, and the breadth of their consequent influence. Shankar had written three concertos for sitar and orchestra, but this piece, premiered in 2010 by the forces that recorded it here, is his first symphony. It resembles a symphony in the fact that it has four movements: "faster outer movements, a lyrical second movement, and a third movement structured along the lines of a scherzo and trio." With the prominence of the sitar, though, the work has more the feel of a concerto. How it is defined in technical terms, though, is less important than the fact that it's a thoroughly engaging work, immediately accessible, with an appealing melodic directness. Each distinctive movement is based on a traditional raga, or melodic mode, so the work's non-Western roots are immediately recognizable. Shankar is successful in adapting the melodic and harmonic characteristics of the Indian classical tradition to a Western orchestra and in using the solo sitar as a complement to the orchestra. The piece ends with a delightful surprise that it would be unfair to spoil by describing here.

David Murphy leads the London Philharmonic Orchestra in a polished performance that demonstrates sensitivity to the idiomatic writing, which incorporates devices from Indian classical music such as slides and bent tones. The composer's daughter Anoushka Shankar delivers a stellar performance of the solo part. She is an acknowledged virtuoso sitar player in the classical tradition and she also has a history of integrating Western popular styles, such as flamenco, with the music for her instrument. The contrast between the acoustic sound of the orchestra and the obviously amplified sound of the sitar may require some aural adjustment. The sound of the live performance is clean and detailed.

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