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A musical summit

Strings and drums met to create a melodic evening

PHOTO: S. R. RAGHUNATHAN

VIDWANS TOGETHER (From left)Umayalpuram Sivaraman, Ravikiran, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt and Ram Kumar Mishra at the performance.

"Ravikirana Vishwamohana Mishrame, Sivaraman mridanga" sang Chitraveena N. Ravikiran, playfully parodying his own pallavi in Kiravani, Adi tala. It came as a surprise, not only to the audience, but even to the artistes on the stage. The `real' pallavi had a far tamer line — "Sarigamapaada niraja..." But as expanded by the four artistes named in the parody, it acquired interesting dimensions through melodic and rhythmic improvisations in speeds slow, medium and fast.

The post-interval session, at The Hindu Friday Review Music Fest, drew enthusiastic contributions from the strings and drums. Such a balance was missing in the first half of the concert, where the two Hindustani artistes played second fiddle.

But starting with the Kiravani alapana, the tonal richness, and gamaka depth of the chitraveena was contrasted with the delicate lyricism of the mohanveena. Each instrument had continuity, but this continuity had a character of its own.

The tanam added dimension to the raga, displaying quiet melody in slow speed before accelerating into the rhythm spins of the faster speeds and high notes. During the kalpana swara tradings, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt at times chose to be an onlooker, especially when Ravikiran wove complex gati patterns, enhanced by the masterly mridangam. But he participated enough to achieve a final overall balance. No surprise that the pallavi should be energised by Umayalpuram K.Sivaraman's mridangam and Ram Kumar Mishra's tabla. The highlight was the tani, where the artistes packed many punches, including a sawal-jawab with a difference. They vocally recited mnemonics for the other to play, before the more regular exchange of drumming. The kuraippu had imaginationand involvement, excelling in phrases of razor sharp, crisp brevity, where Sivaraman's effortlessness amazed.

The real surprise of the evening was Vishwa Mohan Bhatt's bursting into vocal music — a Rajasthani love song, with the Maand glints of the folk tradition. "Kesariya balam" was all romance, where the pangs of separation suffered by the woman find expression in the plaintive lilts, ending in the high notes of "Padharo!" (Come). It gained new colours when ornamented by Ravikiran's chitraveena.

A request from the audience had Ravikiran follow this with a quick "Krishna ni begane". Though Ravikiran informed Bhatt encouragingly that it was Yamankalyani (and therefore familiar), the Hindustani artiste preferred to listen rather than participate. The tabla too was still.

The recital began with the inevitable "Vatapi Ganapatim", prefaced by Hamsadhvani alapanas by both veenas. Melody reigned unchallenged. Though we have heard Hamsadhvani countless times in jugalbandis, this one was special because Ravikiran was determined to play it with its Carnatic shape intact, just as Bhatt refused to step out of its Hindustani mould. Their being so rooted in their traditions, and so mature in their conceptualisation of the raga, made for pleasant, self-forgetful listening.

The Hamsanandi that followed could not achieve the same balance from all participants. The raga passed off well, but with the kriti ("Pavana guru", Rupakam) Bhatt was obviously at sea during the anupallavi and charanam. He was satisfied to add frills here and there.

The ragam-pallavi format would have offered a more level playing field. (Or, as a listener suggested, why not attempt a khyal format and see if something new could be evolved?). However, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt was too much of a veteran, and too used to jugalbandis to let this faze him completely. He let his imagination roam, adding his phrases here and there. He also showed his class in kalpana swara improvisations. The finale had the audience totally involved.

A heartening feature in the recital was that the drums were given their full turns in both segments of the concert. Mridangam and tabla had a shorter interlude even in the first half. They not only played with zest, but created a distinct style for this first essay, quite different from the style they kept reserved for the more elaborate tani later.

GOWRI RAMNARAYAN

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