Glorious shades of Sankarabharanam
THE UNIQUE distinction in Sanjay Subramanian's music is the way he alchemises his husky voice and rough articulation into something exquisitely aesthetic.
The struggle to give shape to his surging manodharma casts a spell on the listeners. Not endowed with any gift, every bit of his singing in his cutcheri had to be through enormous effort. The lack of melodic vocal felicity is well compensated by a most fascinating bhani, which makes his assertive statements more expressive than smooth delicacy - a bhani that provides sumptuousness with sublimation of a raga's resplendent phases.
Sankarabharanam revealed to him that its inspirational potentialities are infinite and contained a gold mine from which the more he dug deeper and deeper the more rich and variegated nuggets he brought out.
Every sanchara in the raga gushing out after the birth pangs of articulation sent the rasikas into raptures. The raga structure, like a temple tower, broad at the base and rising to great heights, was outlined in glorious shades. In its sweep there was not one single sign of cheapness. The alapana from the start to the finish moved in the exalted sphere of Carnatic music's depth. The kirtana "Enduku Peddala" was in the same keyed-up excellence as the raga alapana and eclipsed the other songs, "Sri Varalakshmim" (Sri) and "Taniigai Valar Saravana Bava" (Todi). The Atana raga vinyasa and "Balakanakamaya" stood on an equal footing with Sankarabharanam.
Drawing inspiration from Sanjay, violinist Varadarajan too presented Sankarabharanam and Atana with telling phrases. Trichy Sankaran (mridangam) accompanied with pace and variety. Neyveli Venkatesh (kanjira) was literally in the background all the time.
For all his Herculean efforts to make his performance monumental, T. M. Krishna's was first pedestrian. In the raga alapana of Kalyani, which wandered aimlessly for more than twenty minutes, there was an unleashing of vocal phrasings in the tara sthayi and though much attention was lavished in this direction the pleasing face of the raga remained faint.
An expressional frenzy seemed to have clouded his cutcheri objective. There was nothing in his presentation that stirred sensitivity. It is a fetish of gargantuan alapana as a touchstone of vidwat. If a musician of Krishna's calibre failed to sense Kalyani's charm in five minutes, can it be gained by 20 minutes of midwifery weary sancharas? What was lost, as far as the sensitive rasikas were concerned, in the laborious elaboration was the beguiling fascination of Kalyani. The alapana, song, neraval and swaras lasted for an hour.
But all was not lost. Sriramkumar, on the violin, played Kalyani in such a way that it formed an abiding place in the hearts of listeners. Cajoling the raga with softness and terseness, the sparkle and range in his five-minute exposition was enticing.
Similarly, earlier when T. M. Krishna was meanderingly searching for the soul of Sahana, he failed to realise that it had decided to respond willingly only to the wooings of Sriramkumar's sweet notes. Admirably concise, feelingly expressive, the violinist made it plain his close intimacy with the felicitous flavour of Sahana. It was fondled and feted.
In rendering kirtanas, Krishna could have paid attention to sahitya. In the sahana song, "Giripai" in the anupallavi he sang "Paruvaarulu" instead of "Parivaarulu" and similarly in the charana "Padipootalapai" he sang "Paripootalapai". The other songs were "Ananda Natana" (Kedaram) "Talli Ninnu Nera" (Kalyani) and "Kripajoochutaku" (Chayatarangini). While very assertive in providing percussive help for songs, Arun Prakash (mridangam) and B. S. Purushottaman (kanjira) were happily very brief in their tani. One hopes the cutcheri would have given Krishna the necessary shake-up to make sure he could not take for granted every performance to be top class.
A stimulating web
Carnatic music responds only to those who worship it and not parade it for applause.
Raga bhava that Bombay Jayasree imparted to the alapana of Kambhoji was fabulous. The stimulating web she wove in the madhyama and tara sthayis tapped rich musical sentiment to illuminate the beauteous niches of the raga.
The two Tyagaraja kirtanas at the start - "E Vasudha" (Sahana) and "Syamasundaranga" (Dhanyasi) - lifted up her musical consciousness to a serene level to look at the exalted peaks of Kambhoji's grandeur. This was followed by another Tyagaraja song, "Sri Raghuvaraaprameya".
Whatever she left unsung in the alapana was completed in the movingly rendered neraval for the line, "Sri Bhaskara Kulaadri Deepa". When three Tyagaraja keertanas formed the cutcheri's foundation, can it be anything but thrilling? Of course, the sancharas in the alapana and neraval were feather-like, but served her purpose admirably to bring out light and shadow aspects to make Kambhoji glowing.
After her presentation, the solo version of violinist G. Chandramouli was ineffective. Against the highly-rated Kambhoji, Bombay Jayasree's Dhanyasi alapana was flat. B. Ganapathiraman (mridangam) and Trivandrum Rajagopal (kanjira) were intensely vigorous.
With tonal punch
By her glamorous musical ornamentation, Sudha Raghunathan made her cutcheri saleable. She roved over the ragas Kalyani and Keeravani (ragam, tanam and pallavi) in rapid strides and thereby lived up to her image of an icon among briga votaries. The concert, circumscribed in its contents in aesthetic terms, sailed on the strength of tonal punch and organised skill in vocal manipulation in the tara sthayi. The kirtanas included "Naa Moralanu" (Narayani), "Kamalamba" (Ananda Bhairavi) and "Enduko Nee Manasu" (Kalyani). It was in the last song that she unloaded all her musical glitter. Embar Kannan (violin) responded ably to her statements. Palladam Ravi (mridangam) was brisk associated with R. Raman (morsing).
Unni Krishnan's concert wore the guise of erudition. He sketched the ragas Bilahari and Bhairavi with sancharas like a fashion designer's showroom to make them attractive. Of course, the fluidity of his vocal movements never sagged, but progressed with disciplined smoothness. "Varalandu" (Gurjari), "Dorakuna" (Bilahari), "Karuna Elagante" (Varali) and "Balagopala" (Bhairavi) were the songs. There was great emphasis on musical appearance than depth. At the end of the concert the rasikas had very little weight to carry home except the vibrant, imperious music that R. K. Sriramkumar (violin) and the wide field of percussion that K. V. Prasad (mridangam) and V. Suresh (ghatam) provided.
Banking fully on rakshasa amplification, Aruna Sayeeram's performance marked a resistance to sensitive music. It looked as if besides the mike, she had a built-in extra amplification mechanism in her throat. At her hands music has travelled far from the days of "nadaloludai" to "sabdaloludai". She is reputed to have had her music polished by Brinda and Mukta, which has now completely worn off. What damage vociferous applause springing from sheer loudness can do to a once-sensitive artiste was perceptible in the case of Aruna Sayeeram.
Without much of high and low, she sang "Nannu Vidachi" (Ritigowla), "Subramanyena" (Suddha Dhanyasi), "Mamava Meenakshi" (Varali) and "Soundararajam" (Brindavana Saranga). Appreciation had to be determined by the assault on the ear. Embar Kannan on the violin could not produce on the instrument the same noisy level as the voice could do and so his play was comparatively soothing. Neyveli Narayanan's (mridangam) and Pudukottai Ramachandran's (ghatam) percussive vigour only served to fuel Aruna Sayeeram's craze for more and more of loud-throatedness.
Revelling in swaras
It was the same route mandolin U. Srinivas and Rajesh took, revelling in swaras. There were amplification fluctuations, often exasperating. In many performances today, the exquisite distinction of the tranquillising role of music has given place to Babel.
They played "Varanamukha" (Hamsadwani), "Varaalandu" (Gurjari), "Paridanamichchite" (Bilahari) and "Teratheeyakarada" (Gowlipantu). In raga alapanas, generally the first few movements were relaxed but later became just drowning sound. Vellore Ramabhadran's role was a picture of contrast in the company of T. V. Vasan (ghatam) and V. Selvaganapathy (kanjira).
Rajeswari Padmanabhan's veena was replete with old-world charms. Soft chiselled phrases throbbed in the alapana of Ananda Bhairavi and Kalyani. The kritis, "Marivere" and "Etaavunara" invited rapt attention and her method of play lent distinction to her veena vidwat. Kalakkad Srinivasan (mridangam) and A. S. Murali (ghatam) were equally gentle in their support.
As was only to be expected, Nithyasree Mahadevan poured all her liquid vocal resources on the alapana of Karaharapriya. Duration more than daintiness ruled her effort.
She spun out the vistara at great length whirling round and round the tara sthayi sancharas repeating them lest any one in the audience should have failed to notice them.
Rapidity of exposition was her objective so much so she spent all her speedy musical ammunition in Karaharapriya's raga vinyasa. The kirtana list included "Vinatasuta Raa Raa" (Huseni), "Nannu Brovu Lalita" (Lalita), "Kaayaa Rohanesam" (Karnataka Devagandhari) and "Janaki Pathe" (Karaharapriya).
M. A. Krishnaswamy's response on the violin was meritorious. Poongulam Subramanyam (mridangam) and A. S. Krishnan (morsing) were exuberantly active in percussive support.
A hoarse voice proved an advantage to T. N. Seshagopalan in curbing his adventurous exhibitionism of vocal opulence. His Sankarabharana alapana was sedate with that much of sancharas as would reveal its grandeur. Earlier, with some difficulty in voice management he struggled through Poorvikalyani raga, followed by the kirtana "Gnanamosagarada". "Merusamana" (Mayamalavagowla) failed to register. Later, when the voice relented a bit, he found his feet somewhat in the Todi alapana. T. K. V. Ramanujacharlu (violin) steered his raga lines of Poorvikalyani and Sankarabharanam with acumen. Guruvayoor Dorai's (mridangam) beats sounded harsh. S. V. Viswanathan (ghatam) remained unnoticed.
Raji Gopalakrishnan went through the mill in placing her concert before the listeners. Hackneyed in concept and inept in expressional depth, she sang routinely "Raghuvara" (Pantuvarali), "Maa Ramanan" (Hindolam) and "Rama Nee Samana" (Karaharapriya). Pantuvarali and Karaharapriya alapanas contained all the formula sancharas. V. L. Kumar with fidelity toed her line of cutcheri pantha. Percussive support by Neyveli Skanda Subramaniam (mridangam) and Adambakkam Sankar (ghatam) was energetic.
If tradition is not just something handed down from guru to sishya, but a creative evolution sung and experienced by each musician, it was very much present in the performance of Neduneru Krishnamurthy. It was interesting to watch the development of his mind as he essayed the ragas Durbar and Kedaragowla and the swaraprastaras in general. Maturity, restraint, and nuanced expression reflected the level of his creative energy. In spite of age, a listener could sense in his scholarly exposition his commitment to classicism well emphasised in the rendering of the kirtanas "Tulasaidala" (Mayamalavagowla), "Ramaabhirama" (Durbar), "Endupoyera" (Dhanyasi), "Paraatpara" (Vachaspati) and "Tulasi Bilva" (Kedaragowla).
Peri Sriramamurthy gathered his reflections to bear on the picturisation of the ragas in his solo versions. Palghat Raghu (mridangam) leading the team of percussionists Abhishek Raghuram (kanjira) and Srirangam Kannan (morsing) in his laya support provided the best possible credentials to be reckoned a top-class artiste
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