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In January last year, it was the inaugural Candlelight Classics concert that ended the pandemic-induced drought of cultural events with brilliant performances by Auckland’s talented singers and musicians.

Candlelight Classics Season Two held last week exceeded last year’s offering on many fronts. From the moment one walked into the rather small, intimate, dimly lit venue, the warm glow of candles set the perfect mood for the evening. The stage was beautifully decorated with a myriad candles, the soft lighting casting a gentle aura over the performers and their instruments. The setting was enchanting.

This year’s billing had six singers, like last year, backed by five of Auckland’s well-recognised instrumentalists. Three of the vocalists were from among Auckland’s well known voices while the other three were relatively new. Good on organiser Jayesh Bateriwala and his team for affording a platform such as this one to the newcomers.

The selection of numbers sung this year was far more interesting than last year’s fare. It was a judicious mix of the old, the not-so-old and the new. And the selection was well matched to the singers’ individual vocal styles. The more experienced Arpita Chanda, Neil Patel and Ankita Ghatani excelled in their singing and stage presence as is their wont, while Pritha Chakravarty, Kapil Bhagat and Vijendra Rane impressed with their individual talent.

However, of the newer singers, former Tarana Idol winner Kapil Bhagat was a clear stand out. With an excellent voice, a great stage presence and an engaging manner he is the complete package and we hope to see more of him in forthcoming gigs this year and beyond.

Each of the singers struck a chord in the audience with the sheer power and emotion in their voices. They sang a range of songs, from soulful melodic numbers of the bygone years to upbeat, energetic new tunes. Each one was performed with passion and precision. In the duets and group numbers, the harmonies between the vocalists were especially impressive, and the way their voices intertwined was mesmerising.

Candlelight Classics was optimally structured with solos, duets, medleys and mashups helping bring out the artistes’ individual and collective talents. It was as much about solo performances as it was of collaborations between two, three and sometimes all six singers together. That kind of mixing added allure to the evening’s proceedings.

Throughout the concert, the singers engaged with the audience with light banter and egging them on to join them in chorus, which the audience responded in good measure. It was evident that they were not just talented singers, but also gifted and engaging performers, with their personalities adding their own dimension to their performances.

The musicians, exceeded themselves with their astute accompaniment. Araad on rhythms and techno, Manjit Singh on tabla, the well-loved Hemant Thakar on keys along with Cloyd D’Mello and Avi Pranish on guitar brought a completeness to the musicality of this excellent show. A surprise package of the night was solo saxophonist Charlie Esdale who very competently presented a medley of some memorable 90s hits.

The highlight of the concert was undoubtedly the finale, which brought together all the performers for a stunning collaboration. The soaring vocals and intricate instrumentals came together in perfect harmony, and the audience erupted into applause at the end of the final note.

Like last year, sound engineer Chaitanya (Chai) Rajapurkar was absolutely phenomenal. He is clearly emerging as a master of his craft particularly around Hindi film music gigs, which are more often than not marred by terrible sound management – often times too loud, poorly balanced and scratchy. This reviewer has often had to move away from the speakers at many a performance.

The sound engineer plays a critical role in making the concert a success. And Chai came out with flying colours, not least because of the masterful restraint he employed in balancing sound. From the moment the musicians took the stage, it was clear that the sound was perfectly balanced and crystal clear. Each instrument and vocal could be heard with precision, and the sound was rich and full. It was obvious that the sound engineer had carefully calibrated the sound system and continuously monitored it. Unlike last year, there was no unnecessary reverb that was used.

A word for the newcomers: while their voices were beautiful, there is a need to stay on pitch, particularly during some of the more challenging sections of the songs. Another area that they could work on is their stage presence. They could benefit if they could visibly connect emotionally with the lyrics of the songs they are singing.

Jayesh Bateriwala was his typical self as narrator and host.

Overall the Candlelight Classics concert was an exceptional experience. The combination of skilled musicians, talented singers, and the intimate setting created a truly magical atmosphere.

First appeared in the The Indian Weekender 23 feb 2023