Distinct in style and substance
IN THESE days of amalgamating styles it was refreshing to hear someone who maintained the distinctness of bani. But the first part of her concert was listless. What kept you through a ``Ninne Nera''(Pantuvarali) with neraval and swara as if learnt by rote, a Sahana with ``Rama ika nannu'' weak in manodharma, was the voice, clear as a sruti-aligned bell. And Subhashini Parthasarathy did come into her own in Sankarabharanam where the alapana had fidelity to both tradition and individual imagination. "Sarojadala netri'' had a moving first speed neraval, though you wished the singer would split the words more meaningfully (she ended swaras with samagana-VI, and continued the line from``NO-dini"). Neela Jayakumar's violin put in very sweet touches here and enhanced the recital right through. The percussionists (Madipakkam P. Suresh, Krishnapuram KVRS Mani) did a neat job too, with a tani where the kanjira woke up to higher levels of energy and skill. The post tani session had near forgotten pieces from sampradaya sangitam, all excellently rendered, whether the javali ``Smara sundaranguni'' with the special Pharaz of the Dhanammal school, ``Narimani'' in Khamas which had you tapping to its trills, or the gemlike Atana padam of Ghanam Krishna Iyer ``Tiruvottriyur Tyagarajar". The voice got better and better, along with the increasing involvement of the singer, culminating in a ragamalika viruttam of concise loveliness.
Mysore A.Chandan Kumar had all the training in technique he needs. What he lacked was the soul glimpsed in an earlier concert of the season. What his flute produced at the Narada Gana Sabha were musical feats in high speeds, at a volume that was nothing short of an assault on the eardrum. When will our artistes learn that when amplified beyond a point, music turns into noise? Yet you did recognise genuine talent here, attested by the few contoured sangatis and continuous phrasing, particularly on the longer flute. But they were drowned in the circus feats. The violin (Mannargudi Srinivasan) was not up to the mark the satisfaction came from the mridangam (G.S Krishna).
With her strong individuality and disdain for glitz, Visalakshi Nityanand gets better every year, though those very plus points breed mannerisms. But at this stage they are not unpleasing.
For starters her emphasis is totally on ragabhava, you see it in her choice of Shyama and Saveri. The alapana in the latter had generous sruti-aligned karvais to anchor a nourishing manodharma. The neraval for the line ``Narayani Shyamakrishna...'' had every note ringing true in both voice and conception. It was also marked by a grasp of the neraval technique as distinct from alapana and swara, not always maintained in present day practice. Most importantly, she forgot the technique to lose herself in the music. The swara passages were not add-ons, they continued the spirit of the entire Saveri mood. The ragamalika viruttam and the old favourite ``Navasiddhi petralum''(Kharaharapriya), were sung in a way that allowed the melodic curves to flow with the lyrical content.
The drawback? It is a major though not an insurmountable one. Despite the full-throatedness, the voice production lacked sensitivity. Many passages sounded as if they were forcibly expelled from the base of the throat. This diminished the aesthetic appeal of the recital as a whole. S.Vijayaraghavan and B.Shree Sundarkumar were the accompanists of the session.
Emphasis on content
P.Unnikrishnan's recital at the Narada Gana Sabha (of Tamil compositions alone) proved different from an unsatisfactory performance earlier in the season. On that day the singer gave his no-holds-barred best, with emphasis on both the melodic content and finer aspects of Carnatic music, bearing both overtly and covertly, the stamp of his guru Dr.S.Ramanathan. This was obvious from the alluring Behag varnam and ``Sabhesan sevadi''(Saveri) composed by his guru (its rhythmic stresses sharpened by a vigorous mridangam), and the Devamanohari kriti ``Arukkuttan Teriyum'' popularised by him.
The vocalist also scored in manodharma, Khambodi filled the hall with its resonance, leaving no major avenue untouched in the exploration. ``Kanakkan kodi'' fulfilled expectations in the swara passages, superb even by the high standards of present day practitioners, though the neraval could not rise to the same level. Shanmughapriya was a shorter essay, differentiated also in structure from Khambodi to bring out the contrastive mood of the raga. The tanam was sound, with the enthusiastic violin (Mysore M.Nagaraj) essaying faster sprays in the instrumental mode to complement the singing. The pallavi (in Chatusra Triputa in Khanda nadai) continued the evening of Siva worship, and excelled in the Khanda nadai swara passages where the singer did not lose track of ragabhava in the rhythm pursuit. All this almost but not quite made you overlook that Unnikrishnan's voice production remains quirky, wavering through all the vowels except the open mouthed ``a". The tonal variations muffle rather than maximise depth and weight.
The accompanists played a vital role that day. Mysore Nagaraj displayed characteristic sweetness, his violin had wonderful timbre. Karaikudi Mani's extrovert energy was infectious, and B.S.Puroshotthaman continued to impress with his clarity and good taste.
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