Ashok Ramani showed his mastery when it came to bringing out the melancholic-devotional mood of a raga.
Though Khambodi was the main piece of Papanasam Ashok Ramani’s concert, it was the alapana part of the RTP in Brindavana Saaranga that won the crown. The raga was built at a leisurely pace in small, well-spaced phrases, and the artist showed his mastery by bringing out the melancholy-devotion mood of the raga. (Indeed, Ashok’s style seems to be constructed on small, briga-based, well separated phrases and the effect is quite pleasing.)
Surprisingly, the tanam was less impressive than the alapana, but Ashok came back in full form in the pallavi part of the RTP, which was set to nine-beat tala cycle.
‘Sriranga Ranga Naathanai’ had the beginning of the rhythmic cycle beginning on the word ‘Naathanai’. The Brindavana Saaranga swaras were tailed by notes in Behag, Kapi and Maanavathi — the Kapi swaras were simply stunning.
The other principal features of the concert were Sriranjini (‘Ini Oru Kanam’ of Ashok’s grandfather Papanasam Sivan) and ‘Aadum Deivam Nee Arulvaai’ in Khambodi. The Sriranjini piece was stylish and innovative, but in contrast, Khambodi was run-of-the-mill, with plentiful half-cycle notes being the redeeming feature of the otherwise ‘well, ok’ kind of rendition. Khambodi is one of the ragas that artists have milked dry over the years and is, therefore, bound to fall in the ‘pleasing, but nothing new’ category.
Mayamalavagowla (Tyagaraja’s ‘Tulasidala’) and Chandrajyoti (‘Baagayanayya,’ also of Tyagaraja) were the other elements. The latter was brilliantly sung and the artist would have done better if he had brought in some swaras.
Ashok Ramani’s voice still shows some strain — it thinned out when he sang the upper notes, but the vocalist’s technical brilliance helped him carry the day.
Veteran violinist Nagai Muralidharan was superb throughout, and, as a connoisseur-rasika observed, outshone Ashok Ramani all through except in the Kapi swaras. Mannargudi Easwaran on the mridangam was, as usual, a pleasure to listen to, and K. V. Gopalakrishnan on the ganjira gave enthusiastic support.