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Rokus De Groot: Shivashakti

Rokus De Groot
Release Date: 04/24/2012 
Label:  Quintone   Catalog #: 11002   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Rokus De Groot
Performer:  Dhruba GhoshErnest Rombout
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 44 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

GROOT ShivaShakti: Play of God and Goddess Dhruba Ghosh (sarangi); Ernest Rombout (Eh) QUINTONE 11002 (43:39)

I listened to this CD after I had reviewed Ravi Shankar’s symphony, but because of Fanfare’s alphabetical composer listing, you will probably read this review first. It’s not really a big deal, as such, but for me the contrast between the two works is absolutely fascinating. Shankar purposely constructs his symphony to appeal to Western ears Read more while retaining many elements of Indian classical music, while here Rokus de Groot only uses Western form as a general outline for a piece that relies almost entirely on Eastern modes—not only musical modes, but modes of expression and interaction.

So much may be surmised from the personnel on this disc. ShivaShakti is a duet, partly composed and partly improvised, between a sarangi—which is a bowed string instrument, judging from the photograph something like a very wide-necked sitar—and an English horn, which as we know isn’t a horn at all but a reed instrument. Thus we not only reduce the music itself to basics that can be moved around and played with, but also an extremely sparse instrumentation that focuses the mind on one Eastern instrument and one Western instrument, neither of which is very common as an extended soloist in most Western pieces.

But first, an explanation for those unfamiliar with the basic concept of the piece via its title. In Hinduism, Shiva and Shakti are “representational” gods, in this case indicating the balance between male and female, meditation and energy. Because they are representational, Shiva and Shakti sometimes go by other names in India, such as Shankara and Durga or Bhairav and Bhairavi. (I rely on the liner notes for the latter information.) The music is divided into two long sections, the first part of which represents the Taste of Nectar written by Jnaheshwar, the first chapter of which celebrates the rapture that Shiva and Shakti find in each other: “In the flush of love, they swallow each other’s body. However, in order to maintain duality, they then expulse each other.” This is the fundamental dichotomy of Hinduism, that in order to achieve a perfect blending of male and female one must eventually remain parallel to each other rather than constantly interblended. Rokus de Groot created the overall structure and wrote out the English horn part. Dhruba Ghosh, on the other hand, is improvising his part around what the English horn plays. The long lines tend to sound, to Western ears, in a minor or augmented key, whereas they are using somewhat complementary modes. The liner notes indicate that one line focuses on the notes C-E-G-B while the other is C-D-F-A. Since these two ragas are complementary in tonality, they can be combined to produce a complete Western scale.

In the second part, the scales used have most degrees in common but not all. One scale or mode uses major thirds and sevenths while the other uses flatted thirds and sevenths. The result is something like Indian bebop, at least harmonically. The melodic structures are entirely different, in part because they generally use fewer notes rather than more. Here, the English horn’s plaintive chant is the slow, elegiac one, while the sarangi’s is in double time, quite busy, not only complementing the English horn but filling in the music with improvised counterpoint and countermelodies. In the center of the movement, in fact, Ghosh plays a completely improvised a cappella passage of astounding complexity and invention. I daresay it is better music than some of the modern composed pieces I’ve heard in the last decade.

Judging from the notes, this is not Groot’s first music embracing both musical cultures. He also composed Song of Songs: The Love of Mirabai for the sixth Indian-EU summit in 2005, and Laykla and Majnun: A Composition About the Night in 2006. In addition to being a composer, Groot is also a musicologist who has written at length on composition technique and aesthetics, particularly on Stravinsky’s music, on the impact of Rabindrath Tagore in Europe, and on counterpoint and polyphony as a metaphor (so say the notes) for the work of Edward Said. Obviously, with a piece in which one strand is composed and one improvised, no two performances will (or should) ever be alike; thus this recording is just one of many possible interpretations. Yet whether or not the work goes on and achieves a life of its own outside of this disc, the absolutely magical, hypnotic effect it creates is something that will stay with you for a long, long time.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

ShivaShakti, for oboe (or English horn) & sarangi by Rokus De Groot
Performer:  Dhruba Ghosh (Sarangi), Ernest Rombout (English Horn)
Period: Classical 
Length: 43 Minutes 36 Secs. 

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