Years of experience and practice were evident in Bombay Sisters' singing. Thavil virtuoso Valayapatti Subramaniam stole the show even as Haribabu's nagaswaram created gentle melody.

The Bombay Sisters Saroja and Lalitha had the support of Usha Rajagopalan on the violin, Palladam Ravi on the mridangam and Nanganallur Swaminathan on the ghatam. The camaraderie that prevailed among them with intermittent exchange of smiles revealed that they were a happy bunch of musicians. The happy frame of mind itself is an ingredient for a satisfying performance. This apart, one could notice an appreciable change in the voice of Saroja, the senior. There used to be a trace of harshness in her voice and of late, it seems to have vanished, pleasantly lending an added strength to the duo's presentation. The years of concert experience and the vidwat they gained by sheer practice was evident in their performance.

As if paying obeisance to their guru, they sang ‘Nikhila Loka Nayaki Amba,' the varnam of T.K. Govinda Rao, in Dhanyasi. The rendition was fast with brisk chittaswarams to enliven the proceedings. The Dikshitar kriti ‘Mahaganapathim Manasa Smarami' in Nattai followed with the swaraprastara. Being a Saturday, ‘Divakara Thanujam Sanaissaram' in Yadukulakhambodi was aptly taken up with devout appeal. Hailing from the Musiri School of music, known for predominance in bhava-sangitam, their renderings had this specific emotion. Before taking up the main item, the sisters launched a fast paced ‘Nenarunchinanu' in Malavi.

It was Shanmukhapriya that Lalitha took up next for a detailed alapana. The azhutham which the vidhushi gave for the alapana passages coupled with her manodharma gave the raga a wholesome picture. The sisters sang Swati Tirunal's ‘Mamava Karunaya' in madhyamakala that sustained the interest in the kriti rendition. If the niraval for the passage ‘Pankajanabha Soure' revealed the myriad colours of the raga, the swarakalpanas that they alternated between them showed their tremendous imagination.

Madhyamavati was the raga chosen for Ragam Tanam Pallavi and it was the turn of Saroja to take up the raga alapana, making the robust sancharas in her vocalisation.

The violin response by Usha Rajagopalan deserves special mention as she gave the raga its other dimensions to cherish. The tanam was brief and the pallavi, ‘Dasaratha Sudha Ramachandra Dayalo Maampahi' was rendered in ragamalika. At the summing up, Saroja's clever reverse-rendering of these ragas blending with one another fluently, ending with the main raga Madhyamavati received a round of applause.

Palladam Ravi on the mridangam and Nanganallur Swaminathan on the ghatam gave smooth percussion support to enhance the standard of the concert to a great extent. Their thani was impressive.

Although the concert was slated as a nagaswaram recital by Tirupati Haribabu, it was thavil maestro Valayapatti A.R. Subramaniam, the Sangita Kalanidhi-designate, who dominated the proceedings, charging the air with a vibrant laya display, from beginning to end.

The first thavil vidwan to receive the coveted birudhu from the institution, he had to present his credentials before an august gathering.

In fact, he stole the show with his uncanny display of vidwat through his imaginative play of the instrument. If an analogy could be cited, it was like the aggressive batting of Sehwag to send the ball to the fence and beyond.

To the audience, it was a grand feast of laya, as there were, not one or two, but three thani avartanams. (I understand that the first two thani are arai avartanams or ‘anusarippigai' in the nagaswara-tavil music parlance.) The main thani lasted a clear 60 minutes, which revealed not only Valayapatti's skill, but also his creative genius, power and punch all the way, to get the applause of the awestruck audience. His body language showed that he is a determined player out to woo the rasikas right from the word go.

Valayapatti used both the right and left of the thavil judiciously to produce the sound effects. Within the required tala cycle, he used different nadais or gaits to give them varieties to his presentation. If at one moment he produced the sound of a galloping horse, the next moment it was the roaring of a lion. The special whirring sound that he produced with the stick, with modulation, drew a round of applause. In his third and main thani at the close, Valayapatti enthused his sishya, guided him with tala and helped him collaborate with him confidently. It must be said that the disciple too rose to the occasion.

Tirupati Haribabu, the nagaswaram vidwan began with the Bahudari piece and sailed through the kritis ‘Deva Deva Kalayamite' (Mayamalavagowla – Swati Tirunal), ‘Mari Vere Gati' (Anandabhairavi – Syama Sastri), ‘Evasudha (Sahana - Tyagaraja / Kovur Pancharatna kriti) and ‘Devi Neeye Thunai' (Kiravani - Papanasam Sivan). Haribabu's nagaswara playing is gentle and he uses the ‘kuzhaivu' to give a special appeal of the sound. While his alapanas of Anandabhairavi and Sahana had tonally and imaginatively dexterous touches, his main raga alapana of Kiravani was a brilliant piece of exposition. The long and short sancharas brought out the beauty of the raga and the swarakalpanas added to the lustre of the sahitya bhava.

The concluding songs, ‘Srichakra Raja,' a ragamalika and the Sindubhairavi kriti ‘Venkatachala Nilayam' of Purandaradasa were the only two under the miscellany category.

(charukesiviswanathan@ yahoo.co.in)