The spirit of competition and sangfroid among the present day youth are, indeed, incredible. The Hindu-Saregama MS Subbulakshmi Award 2013 was a testimony to this aspect to the full view of an eager audience at the Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao Hall.

Hosting such programmes with many sponsors might be an interesting affair; so Ramanan, who compered the event, was, in fact, overzealous in his job.

There were five finalists. Each contestant was given 25 minutes to perform with raga alapana, niraval and swaras as the major part of presentation.

Ramnath Venkat Bhagavath who performed first, has a soft and malleable voice. His Bhairavi alapana had flashes of imagination but otherwise travelled on predictable lines. ‘Balagopala’ had niraval swaras on ‘Neela Neerada’ and was methodical with panchamam as the central note.

Anahita Ravindran exploited her slender and clear voice in her Thodi treatise to expose the grandeur of the raga. It was only a partial success; but she tried a touch on grahabedam. Her akaras and stopovers could create a dignified portrait of Thodi and her choice of the kriti was ‘Brindavana Lola’ with bright niraval and swaras on ‘Ramadasa Tyagaraja’. However, her enunciation needs more attention on clarity.

Ashwath Narayanan with his flexible, masculine vocal prowess was instantly impressive as soon as he made a quick sketch of Arabhi for ‘Oangi Ulagalantha’. The dynamic Purvikalyani was majestic. ‘Deva Deva’ with imaginative swara matrices and his instantaneous ability to link the swaras at another point when the judges asked him for a change, showed his laya control. ‘Bhajore Bhayya’ bhajan was his melodious third item.

Sowmya Sridhar is blessed with a metallic and high-pitched voice, and she, therefore, preferred to make her sojourns mostly in the upper regions. ‘Brahadamba’ in vibrant Vasantha was followed by raga elaboration of Keeravani, one of MS’s favourites. ‘Kalikiyunde’ and niraval at ‘Bhaguga Sri Raghu,’ demonstrated Sowmya’s proclivity to bank on her vocal range than on the raga’s nuances.

Karthik Narayanan is a promising vocalist with robust vocal chords. He presented ‘Rajagopalam’ in Mohanam, Saveri raga and ‘Muruga Muruga’ with niraval-swaras and ‘Kanaka Saila’ in Punnagavarali. Karthik’s comprehension of music is good but his presentation was edging more on forcefulness.

As expected, Ashwath Narayanan was the winner of The Hindu-Saregama MS Subbulakshmi Award for 2013, which he received from scientist Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, the chief guest of the event. Ashwath’s music demonstrated spontaneity coupled with ingenuity and dynamism.

Earlier, in his address, Dr. Swaminathan lauded the initiative of the Award as the demographic dividend in Carnatic music in the name of M.S., who was the best icon in the realm of classical music. Among the judges, S. Rajeswari spoke about the task of mentoring the students, while Rajkumar Bharati listed the exceptional and essential qualities of M.S.’s music; voice, sruti, range, emotion and clarity in diction to be followed by aspiring musicians. Trivandrum Krishna Kumar succinctly put MS Amma’s music as an algorithm for spirituality.

Accompanists V.V.S. Murari (violin), Karukuruchi Mohan Ram (mridangam), Tiruchi Murali (ghatam) and Saraswati (tambura) bolstered the morale of the young vocalists in their performances.