There were quite a few rough edges in the mandolin recital of Raju and Nagamani.
If a single main piece makes for an entire concert, then one could say the double mandolins of U.P Raju and Nagamani did a good show. An elaborate Hemavathi alapana followed by ‘Sri Kanthimatim’ of Muthuswamy Dikshitar set in vilamba kala was the only relief in the concert of high decibels. There is a slight delay between the pluck and the sliding on the frets when Nagamani plays the instrument. This lends the swaras an extra note that does not fit into the category of anuswaram.
After the Ata tala varnam ‘Sarasijanabha’ in Khambodi, Raju and Nagamani moved on to ‘Siddhi Vinayakam’ in Chamaram (Shanmukhapriya) with swarakalpanas. In ‘Janaki Ramana’ (Suddha Seemanthini), the use of sa ga ga for ‘… Ramana’ sounded odd on the ears. Also when the mandara sthayi phrases were played, there was a corresponding mel sthayi swaram resonating, which was a disturbing feature.
Narayana Tirtha's composition, ‘Sharanam bhava’ (Hamsavinodini) was pleasant though there was ambiguity in the alapana making it sound like Maand at a few phrases. There was a line up of fast tempo items with ‘Padmanabha’ in Nagaswarali coming next. No doubt an instrument like the mandolin has limitations in producing absolute gamakas. But the duo did not attempt to bring even a few of them.
The percussion support by Chidambaram Balashankar on the mridangam matched the tempo of the concert. While the mandolins were set to a louder tone, the gumukis produced on the ganjira by Purushotham added to the noise. And the thani was marked by fireworks.
A two-hour concert could have been managed well with items that can display the artists' understanding of our music in a foreign instrument. But the choice of two Sai Bhajans and a Surdas bhajan set in different speeds took away the seriousness of an evening slot. Tyagaraja's ‘Palahamsa’ composition
‘Dandamu pettenu’ was also added to this segment. They concluded the concert with Papanasam Sivan's ‘Karpagame’ in Madhyamavathi.