V.S. Narasimhan and V.R. Sekar re-create the ‘Resonance' magic with ‘RagaSaga.'

First ‘Resonance', now ‘RagaSaga'. Violin wizard V.S. Narasimhan had done it again. Marrying two seemingly diverse streams of music – Carnatic and Western classical – seems to come naturally to him. And giving him able company once again is cello ace V.R. Sekar.

At the outset, ‘RagaSaga: For String Quartet' may sound quite similar in theme and style to Narasimhan's first outing ‘Resonance', performed by the Madras String Quartet and brought out in 2001. But closer and repeated listening reveals a strong Carnatic flavour throughout. “Yes”, agrees Narasimhan. “I believe this album leans more towards our music, especially where the swara segments are concerned. But every song has a Western classical feel by way of arrangement.”

While Narasimhan had played the electronic violins and electric viola, Sekar contributed with his electric cello. What happened to the Madras String Quartet, one wonders. “Well, since this album was more Carnatic in essence, we needed musicians who were well versed and comfortable in both genres. That's why Sekar and I decided to do it ourselves.” Incidentally, Narasimhan is the founder and first violinist of the Madras String Quartet of which Sekar is an integral part.

The choice of songs

Though the idea has been brewing for quite a while, it was only a year ago that the project finally took a concrete shape. The first task was to zero in on the compositions which would lend themselves to Western harmonies, counterpoint and rhythm structures. Narasimhan says, “We used the trial and error method every time. For example, we played the grand Khambodi kriti ‘Sree Subramanyaaya Namasthe' on a small synthesiser. We liked what we heard. So we improvised by creating a harmony with simple major and minor chords. The result is what you hear on the album.”

Every part of each piece was written down to the minutest gamaka. Explaining the process, the violinist says, “I would record the first violin and then follow it up with the second violin and viola. Then Sekar added his cello bits, which is the backbone to the harmonies. That's how the album fell into place.”

In the making for about a year, ‘Raga Saga' offers listeners ten mellifluous tracks which grow on you on repeated listening. It begins on a strong note with the Abhogi varnam ‘Evaribodhana.' The cello strains are pronounced and lend the rhythm quotient in the energetic ‘Vaatapi' in Hamsadhwani.

The beautiful Papanasam Sivan classic ‘Paraatpara' has an interesting intro, while a jazzy effect is added to ‘Orajupu', Tyagaraja's Kannadagowla song. The album has a superb version of Lalgudi's Desh tillana. RagaSaga closes on a patriotic note with ‘Chinanjiru kiliyae.'

However, Narasimhan is aware that an album such as this one will not find appreciation from purists. “I known many senior musicians who are quite upset with my work. But I believe in what I do and more important, it gives me creative satisfaction. I really enjoy making music of this kind,” he says in his defence.

Well, those who have heard and loved ‘Resonance' will surely enjoy ‘RagaSaga'. The album is produced by U.S.-based String Temple Records and distributed by Chennai-based Giri Trading Agency. It is priced at Rs. 150.