Ramani's team impressed with harmony, the Rudrapatnam Brothers had their concert well planned and it was serene music that Parassala Ponnammal presented.
It was harmony all the way as veteran flautist Ramani spearheaded his team consisting of his son Thyagarajan and grandson Athul Kumar.
The main piece, if it could be called, giving a secondary status to the mandatory Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi, was ‘Akshaya Linga Vibho' in Sankarabharanam. (Muthuswami Dikshitar). Tyagarajan set the ball rolling by launching into an alapana, unfolding the beauty of the raga. Ramani stepped in to complete the alapana with the ease of a veteran. The three then took turns to render the kriti keeping the free flow of melody. The niraval, as usual, was reserved for ‘Badari Vanamoola' and the swaras were in torrential pour, one better than the other.
It was just another alapana of Atana for the kriti ‘Sakala Graha' of Purandaradasa, by Thyagarajan. There were no fast paced sangatis in the alapana but the kriti was rendered in a hurried pace! While the three shared the Saveri raga alapana they presented a wholesome picture, the kriti being ‘Sankari Sankuru Chandramuki’ (Syama Sastri).
The RTP segment had Shanmukhapriya in the main course. The pallavi was ‘Kumara Guruparane Vaa Mayil Meedu Viraindodi Vaa (demonstrated vocally by Athul Kumar, while the tala structure was explained by Ramani). The team work must be appreciated here for there was complete understanding among the trio in showcasing the nuances of the raga.
Thus it was an aural display of niraval and swarakalpana which touched Sahana and Mohanam, through brilliant flashes.
The lighter pieces ‘Marubari' (Khamas), Subramanya Bharati's ‘Theeratha Vilaiyattu Pillai’, a must in Ramani's concerts, Thanjavur Sankara Iyer's ‘Rama Namame Thuthi Maname’ in Desh were desserts post-Tani. A tillana in Madhyamavati marked the end of the morning's concert.
Violinist S.D. Sridhar's Saveri was noteworthy, while his version of Sankarabharanam and Shanmukhapriya had a special appeal. If his accompaniment for the kritis was perfect, his swarakalpanas were crisp.
Senior mridanga vidwan Guruvayur Dorai had, in his inimitable style, played with anticipation and was alert while the tricky ‘Muthaippu' was played in the flute. He played two thani with ghatam vidwan S.V. Ramani. Both had the veterans' stamp. From the audience point of view, the performance looked so effortless and simple and yet had a profound impact.
It is gratifying to see a large number of rasikas for the morning concerts and the one of Rudrapatnam Brothers was no exception. The duo has built up a good rasika-base here, and the reason for their success is not far to seek – concert planning. Look at the list: Lalgudi, Patnam Subramanya Iyer, Tyagaraja, Syama Sastri and GNB taking the place of Dikshitar.
The opening varnam of Lalgudi Jayaraman in Kannada revealed that they intended to present an engaging performance. It was a stimulating piece to open the concert. However, only in the midway of the second piece ‘Nannu Brovarada Rama' (Bhairavam – Rupakam) of Patnam Subramanya Iyer, Tharakanathan, younger of the duo began to sing open throated and it made all the difference. The mood gained momentum and was sustained throughout.
It was Tharakanathan again, who presented an alapana of Durbar and the raga had its built-in majesty. The song followed was ‘Narada Guruswamy.' The brothers took up the line ‘Kshitini Thyagarja Vinutha' for a brief niraval.
Thyagarajan has a clear tonal strength to traverse in all the three stayis. His exercise in Thodi alapana paid dividends and his prayogas and karvais in certain passages had a ringing effect. It was a magnificent Thodi, no doubt, punctuated with the pidis peculiar to this gana raga. Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi's violin version was equally graceful.
Years of playing as an accompanist and soloist, has enriched her fertile imagination and what resulted was an enchanting Thodi. The brothers were in no hurry in their niraval and the leisurely pace of ‘Kanchadalayadakshi, Kamakshi’ was evocative. The kriti in raga ‘Malavi’ – ‘Marivere Gathi Makevaru Amba’ of GNB was the only kriti rendered in dhurita kaalam, which the brothers sang in unison.
The duo gave a relaxed – vishranti oriented treatment for Keeravani alapana for the Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi. Tharakanathan both in middle and higher octaves showcased his creativity in sketching the raga in all its splendour. Keeravani as such has a lilting quality and Tharakanathan did not miss out the significant touches.
The brothers had a surprise item in Tamizh Ragamalika, a composition that contained ragas Arabi, Kalyani, Hamsadwani, Saranga, Durbar, Bhairavi and Kedargowlai. No gift for guessing it right – it was ‘Arabimanam Vaithu Adharippar Ennai.' With a Kanakadasa hymn, ‘Thanu Ninnadu' in Kedaragowla, the brothers rounded off the concert.
A special word of praise for the mridangam vidwan Kamalakar Rao is due as he lifted the standard of the concert with his intelligent play. He almost shadowed the singing of the duo and the ‘naadham' was soothing. Even in Thani, he did not overdo and kept his cool, collaborating well with the ghatam vidwan S.V. Ramani who too, respected the senior partner in percussion.
Right from the varnam ‘Sami Nee Pai' (Ananda Bhairavi – Veenai Kuppier) till the condluding ‘Karpagame Kan Paaraai' (Madhyamavati – Papanasam Sivan), there was never a sagging moment in the concert of the 80-plus vocalist Parassala Ponnammal. It was a smooth take off, happy (musical) journey and safe landing. She had S.R. Mahadeva Sarma on the violin, C. Chaluvaraju on the mridangam and Ernakulam S. Ramakrishnan on the ghatam as her accompaniment. They were there to enhance the superb quality of her recital. The vocalist's sheer strength is amazing, as she never exhibited any weariness till she completed her programme of 150 minutes.
Mahadeva Sarma's ingenuity and tonal quality stood out in the entire concert and he was a solid support to the vocalist, with his imaginative and mellifluous play, both while accompanying her in kritis, as well as, in niravals and swaraprastaras. He had to meet the challenge of the main performer's alapana sessions, particularly in Saveri and Sankarabharanam, where he had full freedom to reveal his manodharma.
Chaluvaraju's mridangam accompaniment was unique. It was controlled play with the ‘sunadham' permeating the entire auditorium. (Our young mridangam vidwans should learn a lesson or two from this gentleman while playing for female artists.) The ghatam accompaniment by Ernakulam Ramakrishnan added zest to the musical fare.
Ponnammal's menu included a variety of kritis of composers – Veenai Kuppier for varnam, E.S. Sankaranarayana Iyer's invocatory piece ‘Mooladhara Kshetra Sthitha' in Mayamalavagowla, Syama Sastri's Saveri raga kriti ‘Durusuga Kripa Joochi,' Dikshitar for Chamaram raga song ‘Mahasuram Kethu Maham,' Tyagaraja for the Sankarabharanam kriti ‘Enduku Peddala,' Ambujam Krishna for ‘Enna Solli Azhaithal' in Kanada, Annamalai Reddiyar for the lilting Kavadichindu, ‘Pulli Kalaba Mayil' and Sivan for the closing Madhyamavati piece ‘Karpagame Kan Paaraai.' Four were compositions of Swati Tirunal, ‘Ilanthulir Sayanane' (Punnagavarali) standing out for its pure melody.
Ponnammal has a way of beginning the kritis. She almost hums the alapana for the songs before rendering them. The humming slowly develops into a brief alapana, sketching the raga. However, her full-fledged alapana for Saveri, Sankarabharanam and Yadukula Khambodi drew applause from the large audience. What is noteworthy is the moment the alapana is begun one could identify the raga at once. Her clear pronunciation be it any language, adds extra strength to her rendering.
While Ponnammal is at ease in all three octaves, what increases the listening pleasure is her unhurried pace and modulation of voice, especially in the Kavadichindu. (She sounded like DKP.)