NARADA GANA SABHA
Tastefully steeped in tradition
Priya Sisters ... marked by understanding.
HER CHOICE of ragas accented contrast. Abhogi (Sabhapatikku), Ahiri (Mayamma) and Ataana (Nee irangayenil) were reserved for kritis alone, while Bilahari (Tolijanma) and Todi (Sri Krishnam bhaja) were treated for alapana, with their songs set to different talas, one in sparkling Khanda beat, the other in slow Adi. They were bridged by a pratimadhyama raga in ``Bhajana seyarada" (Dharmavati). Don't miss the variety in composers Gopalakrishna Bharati, Syama Sastri, Papanasam Sivan, Tyagaraja, Dikshitar and Vasudevachar. In Lakshmi Rangarajan's concert at the Narada Gana Sabha, every note and glide was steeped in tradition. Nor did she fail to add a lighter mood with Muthaiah Bhagavatar's gem ``Bhuvaneshvariya."
In alapana, Bilahari had little bhava, though R. Hemalatha's violin touched it up with sweetness. Todi, vocalised with feeling and a firm grasp of form, was strengthened with alert underlining by the violin. The strings also rounded off the phrases sensitively. In ``Sri Krishnam bhaja" the slow niraval satisfied as did the faster swaras. There was no aggression, and melody was always in sight. The mridangam (Sumathi Ram Mohan Rao) knew how to highlight kritis in different tempos, as Tolijanma and Mayamma proved, a vital factor in Rangarajan's school of singing. The ghatam (H. Sivaramakrishnan) played its part. On the flip side, the voice flagged in patches, nor was it always assured in the upper sancharas. In sum, Rangarajan's patantara proved weightier than her vocal stamina.
The Priya sisters' duo concert was louder in volume than in vigour. The mikes were only partly to blame, though Shanmukhapriya's discomfort was obvious, even after the younger sister placed her own, better mike, before the other. Tastefully dressed in light blue, the sisters made up for the at times wobbling synchronisation with their camaraderie, and the ease with which they tackled their programme.
With ``Gajavadana" (Sriranjani) and ``Makelara" (Ravichandrika) as wake-up calls, the Priya sisters offered three alapanas in Valaji, Kalyani and Hindolam. The first started with discontinuous phrases, and was knit closer as it was spun along. Limited in scope, the raga has to rely on swaras twinkling up and down the scale, but with M. A. Krishnaswami's violin support, the gallop became sweet and charming. Then came a familiar evergreen in ``Kamalamba" (Anandabhairavi) transiting to the more serious Kalyani. Here too the string added substance. ``Enduko nimanasu" was sung with respect for the raga, as was the niraval on the line ``Tyagaraja hridaya." The kalpana swaras were pitched in the right tempo, neither racing nor ambling. The ragam tanam pallavi was playful. Commendably, the Hindolam did not take a Malkauns avatar. The pallavi had a swarakshara pun (Manida, nidani, sarvamum madhavan seyale, chatusra triputa), emphasised in modulations, and embellished with swaraprastaras in differing yati patterns.
No heavy floods, just little rills tinkling down. Neyveli Skandasubramaniam on the mridangam and B. S. Purushotthaman on the kanjira enjoyed themselves in straightforward, undemanding accompaniment, and in their tani.
Though T. V. Sankaranarayanan began his concert by turning up the volume with each call to Ganesa, the rest of the evening was devoted to quieter, even muted vespers. ``Sri Narada nada" (Kanada) and ``Saranam Ayyappa" (Mukhari) marched on track without any trace of feeling. All talas sounded similar in the mechanical beats supplied by the percussion (Mannargudi Eshwaran, S. Karthick).
Then came Latangi, the alapana assembled like a jigsaw puzzle. When the upper shadja was reached, the process changed. Like water drops on lotus leaves, the swaras began to shine and quiver. ``Venkataramana" acquired a pearly sheen, especially with the niraval in the euphonious ``Alarmel mangai manala, Ambuja nabha dayala." Swaras are his forte anyway, and the Mani Iyer bani showed its strength as TVS began to spin phrases long and short, cleverly making seesaw halts on pa and dha. The percussionists became vibrant partners, as swaras danced on drum and pot. The entire essay had continuity of thought and resonance in expression. However, the following Kapi narayani (``Sarasa samadana") made a wooden contrast, scattering listless swaras, heedless of sthaana suddham.
No major raga appeared for expansive treatment, a loss definitely felt. Lightweight Abheri came next. Old favourite ``Nagumomu" did not have to do anything except unroll itself. The cutcheri tapered off into ``Ka va va" (Varali) and ended in long loving Hamsanandi coils packed with the names of the Lord. Delhi Sunderarajan (violin) contributed silk and velvet.
Her interest in traditional classicism impressed. In the noon slot young Vidya Kalyanaraman drew from a sound repertoire. Her Todi alapana was repetitious at first, pleasingly slow, but the phrases were not rich or polished enough to bear that tempo with confidence. The tambura was practically unheard. The shrill violin's (C.K.Vijayaraghavan) approach was too different from the voice to bolster her essay. ``Sri Krishnam bhaja" continued to demonstrate the feel for gamaka, modulated presentation, relish of raga contours. It also revealed the need for more homework in swara sthaana suddham, and in enunciation (distinguishing pa from bha, sa from sha). Kalpanaswaras were raga-steeped. The mridangam (Tillaisthanam Suriyanarayanan) gave adequate support and a tani of appropriate length and substance.
Subhashini Parthasarathy's recital had the quality that old world rasikas call shravyam, or ``good on the ear." Her voice had gained strength and sharpness in swara-pitching, an asset for the singer who does not deviate from the classical track. On that day, the unvarying maintenance of the middle tempo right through the concert was wearying. From Harikhambhoji to Latangi and Kharaharapriya, each raga-kriti suite was given the same tempo, a relentless madhyama kala, despite the differing length and identifying mood, and at the cost of over all depth in the concert. The Harikhambhoji niraval in ``Pada tamarai" (Vandadum solai) pleased by its competence. Nothing affected or sentimental in Latangi, developed in long phrases redolent with raga. T. K. Padmanabhan rained melody sweet and plaintive, enriching Subhashini's sound technique.
``Marivere" sparkled, with its arresting chittaswaram playing hopscotch over the scale. The niraval on the line ``Dharalona" was notable, but grandeur was reserved for the following kriti ``Tyagaraja yoga vaibhavam" (Anandabhairavi) in the chaste pathantara. Here the mridangam (Hanumanthapuram R. J. Bhoovaragan) framed and rounded off the kriti with aplomb, as it did with the others in the recital. It also brought off an unassuming tani with the kanjira (Krishnapuram K.V.R.S.Mani).
Kharaharapriya would have gained with more variety, but with ``Nadachi nadachi," it balanced and anchored the recital. What a waste of javali (Narimani, Khamas) and padam (Nitthiraiyil)! They were rushed through with the eye on the clock, all beauty and emotion aborted. The percussion treated the padam like a kriti.
Old is gold
At P. Unnikrishnan's concert ``Deva deva kalayamide" (Mayamalavagowla) cantered in, without differentiating niraval and swaram, the concluding crescendos drowned in staccato takadhimis from violin (Mysore Nagaraj), mridangam (Mannargudi Easwaran) and ghatam (V. Suresh). ``Pirava varam tarum" passed muster though without the poignancy due to its content. Kedaragowlai entered trailing folk phrases, not unpleasing at first, but irksome in refusing to soar into more classic heights. The singer did not take a single step out of its traditional boundaries. But the raga, assembled in pause-filled phrases, did not ripen, nor spill into moving moments, though then, as through the whole concert, the music was aligned to a resonant tambura. ``Nilakantham bhaje" brought majesty.
Unnikrishnan's kriti-choice went in for old gold, again underlined by ``Ranganayakam" (Nayaki). Todi was expansive, at times mannered, but not poignant enough for the melting beauty of ``Ninne namminanu." Here as elsewhere, lack of akaram in the vocalisation stopped the singer at the brink of reachable possibilities.
The violin went in for soukhyam in Todi, merging delicately into the drone-lit backdrop, as against the shrill virtuosity in Kedaragowlai. The kriti was rendered with sheen intact. In the niraval the singer forgot himself in the raga and bhava, as did the strings, with the percussion powerfully highlighting each effect. The swaras continued the effect.
After that, apt tail pieces like a viruttham, javali or bhajan would have framed the concert better than the hasty ragam-tanam-pallavi in Bahudari, racing against time, unable to do justice to the format, making do with mere raga sweetness. The tani was long, the kuraippu kept the listener guessing, sparking little surprises each time.
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