Manda Sudharani did full justice to the RTP. Shashank's flute playing was quite strong and, therefore, steady.
A serious Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi in chatur-ragamalika took the predominant position in the concert of Manda Sudharani. She pruned the number of kritis so that the RTP was allotted sufficient time to enable the rasikas savour it for a longer time.
Sudharani began her concert with ‘Sri Jalandara’ (Gambhira Nattai-Jayachamaraja Wodeyar). While the chittaswarams were rendered in a fast pace, even the swarakalpanas were delivered in the same speed. Perhaps she wanted to set the ball rolling with briskness. Tyagaraja's ‘Ramabhakti Samrajya’ in Suddha Bangala followed suit.
Then she began the alapana of Hindolam. The alapana was, no doubt, a brilliant prelude. When Muthuswamy Dikshitar's ‘Neerajakshi Kamakshi’ was taken up one's expectations soared. Dikshitar and madyamakala kriti go hand in hand to entice rasikas. Sudharani rendered the kriti in a leisurely pace. However, when she moved to niraval and swarakalpanas, her zest for speed seemed to have overwhelmed her and the niraval and swaras were spread in a tearing hurry, so much so that the enjoyment of the beautiful kriti was almost lost. (That the audience lapped it up and applauded in the end is a different matter!)
The well known Swati Tirunal sahityam ‘Bhogindra Sayinam’ in Kuntalavarali received a different treatment at the hands of the vocalist. She accepted that the previous rendering had the ‘laya sowkyam’, but her desire was to present the charanam lines with a slight variation in tala, because there was scope for it. (She divided the last phrases of the four charanam lines from ‘Kaliradhanutha Sanyasi Bhajananu’ up to ‘Kanchana Vimana Lalitham’ of 12 talas into 4, 4 & 4).
Sudharani's Bilahari alapana was truly satisfying. The violin response from M. Narmada was equally brilliant with typical Parur-school punches and sharp notes. Her enthusiastic participation in essaying the raga and providing shadow-like accompaniment to the Tyagaraja kriti ‘Dorakuna Ituvanti Seva’ earned her appreciation from the rasikas. Muthiah Bhagavatar's ‘Saravanabhava Samayamithira’ (Pasupathipriya) was again a speedster.
The Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi was an elaborate exercise — Sudharani took up four ragas, Sankarabharanam, Kalyani, Valaji and Kanada for her detailed alapana, tanam and pallavi swaras. (She cited Ariyakudi having done it before and she was only following him now.) She had, therefore, the pallavi lines linked to the ragaswarupa of each raga, thus: ‘Sankarabharana Veni, Kamalanayani Kalyani, Valaji Vachina Ramani, Kanada Rasikamani’. She did not hurry in her delineation of the ragas and did full justice to the RTP in all earnestness. The transition from one raga to another was a smooth affair.
Enough time was allotted for the thani by Ramanamurthy on the mridangam and Somayajulu on the ghatam and it was an interesting demonstration of laya. When accompanying for kritis, they did not drown the voice of the singer with aggressive display, but chose to give the needed support.
Sudharani's soft javali ‘Parulannamata’ in Kapi was followed by a tillana to end the concert on a happy note.
It was difficult to distinguish which alapana could be rated high, in the flute recital of Shashank. The ragas Andolika, Kalyanavasantham, Kalyani and Bindumalini merited his special care as he handled them.
Shashank's playing technique at times reminds one of the wizardry of Mali, but overall, it seems he has evolved his own distinct style. His notes are longish and he never employs the tricky ‘muthaippu’ while concluding the kriti. His blowing too, is quite strong and, therefore, steady.
A notable point in his performance was to have exhaustive sancharas for each raga in the alapanas since he eschewed the niraval part, which seemed sensible. Instead, he bestowed his entire attention to swarakalpanas, where his manodharma was in full bloom.
Another point that made the concert a lively one was the mridangam accompaniment by Arjun Kumar. It had softness and jelled well with the melody of the flute and the resultant rhythmic sound was quite enjoyable.
It seems as if Shashank has a soft corner for Tyagaraja. He never looked towards the other two of the Trinity - Muthusamy Dikshitar or Syama Sastri!
Shashank's rendering of Andolika was leisurely and the kriti ‘Raga Sudarasa’ was played in a relaxed manner. The swaraprastara received the flautist's full attention. ‘Sada Madin’ of Tyagaraja in Gambira Vani was brisk.
Kalyanavasantham was the next choice and Shashank played the raga alapana in two parts. Violinist Ganesh Prasad could only respond to the first half. Shashank played the other half, covering the rest of the alapana with more flourishes, and without a gap (or opportunity for the violinist to present his version of the raga in full), he began the Tyagaraja kriti ‘Nadaloludai’. The swarakalpanas appeared as added ornamental pieces.
Following the speedy ‘Ninnuvina Namadendu’ of Tyagaraja in Navarasa Kanada, Shashank took up an elaborate alapana of Kalyani. The breezy notes played to explore the raga were creatively rewarding.
While essaying the alapana, Shashank pauses between phrases to bring out the best of his manodharma. The pauses were worth waiting for. ‘Etavunara’ of Tyagaraja was rendered soon after the alapana – part two.
The thani was lively with Arjun Kumar on the mridangam and Tirupunithura Radhakrishnan on the ghatam. Though it was short, both the artists impressed with their display of vidwat.
The flautist allotted 30 minutes for the Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi, and Bindumalini, a rare selection for alapana, followed. It had the lilt and charm and therefore, the melodic appeal. The pallavi, ‘Samanama Sabhapate, Sadasiva’ had ragamalika swaras. The swaras poured out thick and fast.
Shashank signed off with ‘Aliveni Entu Cheyyum’ of Swati Tirunal in Kurinji followed by a tillana.