Marred by imbalance
Bombay Jayashree... full-throated singing.
WE KNOW good, bad and mediocre concerts. But what about a concert that doesn't fit into any known category? True, the openminded rasika is ready to admit that the concert format established by Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar with its almost universal following by vidwans is not sacrosanct. Deviations are welcome when done by thoughtful mind and creative genius. We have not forgotten how M. D. Ramanathan made his own rules in the structure, tempo and content of his concerts. But what Neyveli Santhanagopalan did at Sri Krishna Gana Sabha was something else altogether. On that day the singer seemed to be prompted by eccentricity rather than imagination, and hence the concert turned out to be strange rather than splendid, as his recitals can be.
Santhanagopalan's voice has not recovered its former quality and timbre.
Though aligned to the sruti, and in pursuit of soulful prayogas, he is unable to hit any note above the middle register. Attempts tend to go off-key. But that was no reason for the concert's lack of cohesion. The same singer offered better fare elsewhere during the December festival, finding adroit ways to overcome the vocal handicap.
The problem that day was one of imbalance. The ragas chosen for elaboration were Nalinakanti, Bhairavi and Suddh Sarang. The first was developed at a painstakingly slow pace where it lost its swarupa, even suggesting other ragas, especially in the newfangled glides and hooks employed at will.
Violinist Mullaivasal G. Chandramouli managed to follow the windings of the singer. He had a tougher time with Bhairavi patchworked into parts for main and support voices, the division done without logic or consistency.
However, there were moments in the alapana and kriti (``Natajanapalini") which drew involuntary nods of enjoyment, a fact which irked you all the more when the singer decided to diffuse the tautness and depth by fading in and out of phrases arbitrarily. Chandramouli began in the same vein but progressing millimetre by millimetre he built up resonance and served a meaningful raga essay. Beginning with the anupallavi ``Neela neerada sariram" Santhanagopalan plunged into a padam-paced ``Balagopalam." The swara singing was confined to one avartana after which he signalled B. Ganapathyraman to play the tani. That was the only part of the recital that had a clearly discernible beginning, middle and end. Its brevity reflected the mridangist's apparent frustration over the entire exercise up until then, where he had not been able to traverse any known patterns of rhythm. It was left to the violinist to join the conclusion of the tani as the singer was too lost in his own dreams to note it.
N. Ravikiran on the chitravina... soothing music.
Suddha Sarang was treated as the Hindustani raga it is. The tanam was appalling. Mridangam accompaniment could not rescue it from shapelessness. And the pallavi (Chatusra Triputa) ignored all rules of grammar to leap into several genres successively. You got a mishmash of viruttam singing, dhrupad, khyal, tarana and thumri. (Onstage disciple Sriram Parthasarathi coasted through taans like a pandit or an ustad). The recital stretched on in a series of tukkadas, leaving you disappointed that an artiste of high calibre should perform so far below potential.
Shift in style
Evident at Jayashri Ramnath's recital were signs of a conscious effort at breaking out of a mould to realise her potential, singing in a more full-throated style. Kedaragowlai with ``Venuganaloluni'' and Ritigowlai (Janani) had rakti prayogas. After the madhyamakala rendering of ``Nivadanegana" (Saranga), the main Todi, ``Kaddana variki'' scored in sincerity and fidelity to tradition. The flow, however, had breaks for the listener as some of the alapana phrases ended somewhat abruptly, and the karvais, despite sruti alignment, were hampered by inadequacies in voice projection. ``Bhavayami Gopalabalam'' was a memorable post tani piece, aquiver with bhava in the delicate contours of Yamunakalyani.
Ample support came from R. K. Shriramkumar on the violin, somewhat shrill at Jayashri's sruti level. Arun Prakash on the mridangam and K. V. Gopalakrishnan on the kanjira made neat partners.
Partway through his concert, when he glided smoothly over the pasuram ``Tumani madathu'' you wondered why, with so many things going for him, a talented singer like S. P. Ramh has not so far fulfilled his early promise. On that day you saw that the gift of a sweet voice was a drawback almost, as the singer did not go beyond the pleasing to the profound. The lively Bilahari (``Paridanamichite") and bright Atana (``Ilalo") served out merely agreeable stuff for the ear. The niraval and swara for ``Mamava Minakshi'' evoked the daintiness of Varali, not its depth. However, a raga like Bhairavi has its own compelling gravity, and here Ramh accented the plaintiveness of the melody (``Tanayuni'') without sentimentalising the prayogas. Tukkadas included ``Saramaina," Behag and ``Srijagadishwari Durga," Ahir Bhairav. Vitthala Ramamurthy on the violin made a strong contribution so did Kallidaikurichi Sivakumar's percussion.
Her choice of ragas and approach to them (Surutti, Saveri, Khamboji) for her noon recital at Sri Krishna Gana Sabha revealed Sumitra Nitin's aesthetic preference for gamaka music. The singer did not push herself in at any point but followed the natural progression of the raga in her alapana of Saveri (``Sankari sankuru'').
The swara passages were as focused on the melody as the niraval. Khamboji (with ``O Rangasayi'') had less energy, as also less confidence, in the higher sancharas. Why else would she lower the volume after hitting a mel sthayi gandhara?
However, there was clarity in mandara prayogas (Khamboji alapana and the Saveri chittaswara). T. Hemamalini and T. Shyamsundar banked the recital on the violin and mridangam.
Neyveli Santhanagopalan... his concert was strange rather than splendid.
Ravikiran's chitravina offered the kind of music that soothes and replenishes the spirit. (Thin attendance at his Sri Krishna Gana Sabha recital made you realise that it was not a majoritarian preference). From the navaragamalika varnam, and two varied pieces a gentle ``Chalamelara," Margahindolam, and a bright Kannada essay followed by ``Sri Matrubhutam,'' Ravikiran made no concessions to glamour in his accent on quality.
However, tautness suffered due to interruptions. First it had to do with mike adjustments and then with explications of Oothukadu Venkatasubbier's sapta ratnas (Ravikiran played one ``Balasarasamurali'' in Kiravani), which belonged to the lecdem rather than the concert format. A caressing Ahiri followed, with ``Mayamma'' in a slightly faster pace than usual, gamakas naturally intact. Yet it took an hour to reach that point called ``kalai''.
The alapana of Sahana accented grandeur rather than sweetness, an apt prelude to tanam, a mode which makes the instrument glow. V. V. Ravi (violin) too did his best here.
The pallavi was a rhythm play, bringing off all the gatis with unlaboured elan in the straightforward Adi tala structure. The rhythms in tani (K. V. Prasad, Udupi Sridhar) had tonal refinement.
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