When a Carnatic vocalist possesses all the ingredients of a good singer, it is reasonable to expect an extraordinary performance. Sumitra Vasudev possesses a pleasing and refined voice, her shruti shuddham is impeccable, her sense of raga, tala and composition are excellent and her paatantharam is solid. Despite all this, if a concert leaves the listener unimpressed, it is indeed a big disappointment.
Sumitra Vasudev's concert for The Music Academy was begging for energy and some youthful exuberance. The accompanists seemed to follow the vocalist's lead. It was painful to see an ensemble going through the motions of performance with no semblance of intensity especially when so much more seemed possible. Part of the problem could be that Sumitra is coy about opening her mouth adequately and the throw of the voice gets limited.
It was good to hear the rendition of Sarasamu, Mudikondan Venkataram Iyer's varnam in Shanmukhapriya. This was followed by Tyagaraja's Sugunamule in Chakravakam. The kalpanaswaras following the kriti were crisp and neat. The next piece, Ambaparadevate, a composition of Krishnaswami Ayyah in Rudrapriya, was followed by a short alapana in Sama. The phrasings were delicate and pleasing. Just as the vocalist was getting into the stride with Sama, the alapana ended all too quickly. Muthuswamy Dikshitar's Guruguhaya was the kriti presented. Jayadeva's ashtapadi Chandana charchita in Pantuvarali deserved to be rendered with more feeling. Madhyamavati was taken up as the main piece. Once again though, the alapana was too short. The neraval and kalpanaswaras that followed Papanasam Sivan's kriti Sharavana were competent. Perhaps while trying to squeeze a full ragam tanam pallavi in a two-hour concert, an elaboration of the kritis gets sacrificed. Kambhodhi was taken up for the RTP. It was slightly baffling to hear the vocalist sing phrases more characteristic of close cousin Harikambhodhi for an inordinate length of time. The character of Kambhodhi lies in the punch of the ‘p d s' and needs to be delivered right at the start. The tanam was followed by a pallavi in tishra jati matya tala in khanda nadai. The essays in the shlokam though short, brought out the essence of Saveri, Begada, Bageshri and Sindhubhairavi.
Violinist Balu Raghuraman provided competent support throughout and his alapanas of Sama and Kambhodhi were noteworthy. However, he has a tendency to speed during the upper kala swaras and this often resulted in a comical situation where the violinist arrived first at samam followed by the tala (which tried to keep pace with the running violinist) and then followed by the morsing who stayed in the correct kalapramanam!
The mridangam artiste M.S. Varadan supported the concert well but one wished that he had tried to infuse more energy into the proceedings. Nerkunam Manikandan did well to fill the role of the upapakavadyam despite the limitations of the morsing.
A commendable feature of the concert was the perfect audio balance. Kudos to the sound engineer.
(Viswanath Parasuram is an educator and founder of Karadi Tales. He is also a vocalist and mridangist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.)