There are many quality & readily obtainable Hindustani instrumental recordings, so this list involves more difficult choices than most. I keep up with the new releases fairly well, so this list should be fairly comprehensive in that sense. I am not trying to survey every style, and many of the artistes selected have made several recordings of similar merit. In cases where I did not want to list more than some smaller number of these recordings, I may have made rather arbitrary selections. Inquiry on this point is welcome.
In all cases, I have prioritized performances with longer raga expositions, all things being equal. I have also allowed some raga preference to affect the choices, although this is usually incidental. Most of the major instruments will be mentioned, but again, my aim is not to be comprehensive. Of course, my entire aesthetic opinion on this matter could be called arbitrary... but what else are critics for?
Recorded sound quality is superlative, unless otherwise noted. Hopefully the list will serve its intended purpose, providing good examples of a selection of North Indian instrumental styles.
The sitar is the best-known instrument of India. It is a pear-shaped plucked-string instrument, with frets and a general "buzzing" resonance. It gets much of its sound quality from the ability to pull strings to get multiple notes along the same fret. It is an instrument played in a vast array of styles, but I have stayed with the truly classical only, and a subset at that, as throughout this list.
The first four recordings above are part of a developing series of recent documentary recordings by Vilayat Khan. This is a rather unique series, as it provided Vilayat Khan, one of the most creative sitarists of the twentieth century, the opportunity to perform exactly what & how he would like onto high-quality digital recording.
Manilal Nag, an artiste whose stature continues to grow, has only two other CDs I have seen. He represents a different school of sitar playing.
Of course, there are hundreds of quality sitar recordings, and the choices above are both selective and idiosyncratic. For a list of this brevity, there are a thousand ways to choose, and I do not claim not to see other options. Among other sitar styles, major exponents include Ravi Shankar, Nikhil Banerjee, Balaram Pathak & Rais Khan. Ultimately, I have decided to keep a short list and to choose the performances I like best.
The sarod is the second most popular solo instrument in North India. It is a fretless, plucked-string instrument with a resonant skin face and metallic fingerboard. It is especially good for glissandi, performed with the fingertips along the board. Striking the strings can also be forceful, and so the instrument presents good expressive potential.
Although Ali Akbar Khan has perhaps a hundred quality recordings, I do believe that the two listed are at least among a smaller handful of special merit. The third disc is, in my opinion, the best recording to date by Buddhadev Das Gupta, a fine artiste.
The sarangi is a fretless, bowed-string instrument with many sympathetic resonating strings. The tone is somewhat similar to the European viola da gamba, although it is a solid wooden block with a skin covering and the resonances permit a richer tonal pallette. The sarangi was the primary instrument for accompanying khayal singing (now it is the harmonium), but is dying out because it is so difficult to control.
Ram Narayan is a fabulous artiste who has done much to spread sarangi playing. He excels particularly in raga-bhava, and has invented new ornamentation techniques for the instrument.
See also the Dhrupad page for instrumental recordings on the Rudra Veena.
Other instruments with a major following are the bansuri (bamboo flute) whose leading performer is Hariprasad Chaurasia, the santur (hammered dulcimer) whose leading performer is Shivkumar Sharma, and the shehnai (shawm) whose leading performer is Bismillah Khan.
Appearing as accompaniment throughout this list, the tabla is a famous set of two drums, ubiquitous to Hindustani music and known for its intricate finger-work. There are also dozens of solo tabla recordings, in a wide range of styles. Solo percussion is not one of my priorities, although I do evaluate the accompaniment as part of selecting this list.
To Indian music menu.
To Deepak Raja's article on Vilayat Khan and his web page.
Obviously, many readers will think that I have made major oversights. All I can say is that I have heard all of the major artists that I have had the chance to hear. My preferences are what they are, for better or worse. Keep in mind, this list is intended to be brief.T. M. McComb Updated: 5 May 2005