Around half a century ago -- even long after the relatively concise Ariyakkudi pattern of performance had become a well-established norm in Carnatic music concerts -- the Raagam-Taanam-Pallavi used to be quite an elaborate exercise, calling for an extremely detailed elaboration of the chosen melody and intricate rhythmic variations. In more recent times, with the duration of concerts getting shorter and shorter, musicians as well as audiences prefer much briefer and lighter versions.
As a result, the RTP, which used to be an almost indispensable element of a normal concert in the good old days, now tends to be a rather marginal feature, and is often given up altogether. But even now there are some rare occasions when a musician does embark on a substantial exercise in this genre, strongly resembling the solid performances of the grand old masters of Carnatic music. Such was the superb RTP rendered by Dr. R. Ganesh at Amarabharati in Tiruvanmiyur the other evening.
A lengthy and precisely structured exploration of Khambodi was followed by a well-drilled recitation of a lovely single-line lyric composed by Dr. Ganesh himself, containing the signatures of the Trinity (‘Tyagaraja Manohari, Guruguha Janani, Shyamakrishna Sahodhari'). What made the exercise really formidable and exciting, was the rich timbre of the singer's voice and the forceful style of singing which he has cultivated so assiduously with his constant preoccupation with naama sankirtanam. And what made it particularly attractive was the variations in the swara sequences in the five ragas of Tyagaraja's Pancharatna kritis -- Nattai, Gowlai, Aarabhi, Varaali and Sri).
Such a monumental edifice required a strong foundation, which was well laid by a couple of preceding numbers, viz. ‘Ampon Annaye' (composed by Koteeswara Iyer in raga Sri) and ‘Himaadhrisuthe' (Kalyani, Shyama Sastri). The pre-set swara sequences of the former song, which sounded like echoes of ‘Endaro Mahaanubhaavulu,' and the repetitive recitation of the phrase ‘Shyamakrishna Sahodhari' in the latter number, turned out to be an emotional prelude to the pallavi in Kambodhi.
Violinist Pakkala Ramadas, a worthy disciple of Lalgudi Jayaraman, mirrored the vocalist's style with precision and a rich tone; percussionist Chidambaram Balashankar's mridangam had a resonant quality which made it sound almost melodic, particularly in his solo sequence, during which the flavour of Kambodhi filled the air.