The veteran handled vivadi ragas with élan.
At 69, Yesudas retains the zest to give his best. As it is, his somewhat intriguing style itself adds to the thrill of listening to him. The renowned vocalist adds colour to this style by selecting rare ragas and compositions, bringing them to life. For example, in his concert for Nungambakkam Cultural Academy, the singer picked up two rare numbers – ‘Sri Gananatham Bhajamyaham' in Kanakangi and ‘Nee Sari Sati' in Hemavathi. It should be mentioned that both these compositions are among the ‘prakshipta kritis' (spurious) that have the saint composer's signature woven into them by other composers. Notably, ‘Sri Gananatham' also has ‘Guru Guha' in its lines, but it is not attributed to Muthuswamy Dikshitar.
Regardless, both the numbers were brilliantly sung. Yesudas's handling of Kanakangi was sufficient to demolish the view that vivadis are neither easy to sing nor provide an aesthetic appeal. The kalpana swaras had a ‘vedic recitation' aspect about them.
It was in the Hemavathi alapana that Yesudas's unusual style came to the fore. If the more-popular Dikshitar composition, ‘Sri Kanti Matim,' is taken as the benchmark for the raga, Yesudas's alapana sounded quite different. But as much as it lacked the commonly accepted Hemavathi-feel, it was thoroughly enjoyable.
But what followed was a contrast. Yesudas picked up the Pancharatna kriti ‘Dudukukugala' (Gowla). It was sung slow and bald, so much so that one had to search for Gowlai in it. Perhaps the vocalist lost the momentum owing to his distraction from the low but hoarse noise of plastic chairs being moved in the area behind him, which he publicly deprecated more than once. It was a relief when the Gowla ended.
The Bhairavi (‘Upacharamu' of Tyagaraja) that followed had strokes of ‘light music' - a ‘different' Bhairavi. Mahadeva Sarma on the violin accompanied brilliantly, though at points through the Bhairavi, Yesudas was visibly unhappy with the instrument's sruti alignment. Tiruvarur Bhaktavatsalam was sweetness itself. He played ever so gently and truly nourished the concert. Ghatam artist Tirupunitura Radhakrishnan was full of verve and drew a thunderous applause.
Sikkil Gurucharan stole the hearts of his audience with a splendid Vasantha (‘Hariharaputram' of Muthuswami Dikshitar).
Although one might say the artist could have used the sa-ma-ga-ma combination in a more pronounced manner to avoid any whiff of Lalitha (which takes sa-ri-ga-ma), the alapana was lovely. In the rendition of the song, Gurucharan brought forth some excellent sangatis at the line 'Tyajeham'. Niraval appeared at the line 'Murahari' and the swaras came in swirls.
The main piece was Simhendra Madhyamam ('Rama Rama' of Swati Tirunal). The post-concert murmur among the discerning audience was that an artist of the calibre of Gurucharan could have produced a better alapana. Nevertheless, it was enjoyable and an artist always runs the risk of setting high expectations that he is sometimes unable to meet. ‘Rama Rama Guna Seema' that followed the alapana was again good, but not unexceptionable. First the choice of the line for niraval – ‘Deenabandho Mamava' - was inappropriate. Custom cannot stale the use of 'Munimaanasadhama' for niraval and for a raga like Simhendra Madhyamam, a higher note is better for niraval and swara sequences. Secondly, the swaras were somewhat pattern-based.
Multiple speeds in a single tala cycle may help demonstrate talent but they militate against aesthetics, especially if overdone.
Delhi Sundararajan provided unobtrusive support. K V Prasad with his subtle beats is an example of how a percussion accompanist should perform.