Sertalai Ranganatha Sarma's creative sangatis and good sruti alignment made his Sankarabharanam pleasant. Kiranavali's alapana for the same restored the quality of the concert.
Sertalai Ranganatha Sarma gave an excellent account of his abilities as a well trained Carnatic vocalist. Sarma has quite a few assets to back him - a ringing powerful, yet malleable voice, reminiscent of the late vidwan Voleti Venkateswarlu, and a traditional approach to concert planning are among those.
Sarma put his best foot forward at the start with Ritigowlai Ata tala varnam, ‘Vallabha Nayakasya' (Begada, Dikshitar) and ‘Sri Sankara Guruvaram' (Nagaswaravali, Maha Vaidyanatha sivan). His delineation of Varali ragam and the poignant kriti, ‘Kamakshi' (Syama Sastry) was brilliant, capped by the niraval at ‘Sukha Syame Sankari.'
The main song, ‘Swara Raga Sudha' (Sankarabharanam, Tyagaraja) was an equally pleasing effort. He carefully chose creative sangatis that reflected his good grooming. Good sruti alignment and clear rendition at the lower range also echoed his respect for good old musical values. The niraval at ‘Paramanandamane Kamalamupai' was focussed on melody and ‘bhavam' rather than technique. Sarvalaghu pattern dominated his swara renditions in Varali and Sankarabharanam. Sarma was up against a loud and relentless percussion play of Jayabhaskar (mridangam) and Guruprasad (ghatam). Neyveli Radhakrishnan's violin support was pedestrian except in swara rejoinders in Sankarabharanam. The overall decibel level of the concert was too high.
Sarma's consummate endeavour amidst these challenges is laudable.
One couldn't ask for a more striking contrast as Kiranavali's concert failed to take off despite some attempts to revive it. Kirnavali's voice was feeble and immature. A short range and lack of energy and weight didn't really help. The programme cannot be faulted though. Kirnavali sang ‘Saraseeruhasanapriye' (Nattai), ‘Manasuloni' (Varamu), ‘Appa Rama Bhakti' (Pantuvarali) and ‘Ananda Natana Prakasam' (Kedaram) in the first half – all sterling pieces that have adorned many good concerts. The rendition, for the most part was mechanical and the brigas flopped. End notes didn't land well and she had difficulty singing in the higher shadjam at times. The concert picked up some colour in the raga alapana of Sankarabharanam (‘Sankaracharyam,' Subbarama Dikshitar). The kriti also helped restore quality, but indifferent niraval (‘Karakanita Kamandalam' which starts at the base of the middle octave) didn't lend any credence. Neela Jayakumar (violin) played for the concert pride with rich raga alapana sketches (Pantuvarali, Sankarabharanam) and interesting swara patterns. Jayakumar has a healthy subdued style of mridangam play that can stabilise any concert.