U.P. Raju’s mandolin concert in Thrissur had the right mix of classicism and entertainment.

Listening to a musician, especially after a long break, is an exhilarating experience if the performer is able to maintain his standard of excellence. A two-hour mandolin recital by U.P. Raju in Thrissur recently was such a concert. The concert demonstrated his mastery over this Western instrument that has been adapted to play Carnatic music.

A concert becomes an enjoyable experience when the musician’s selections include compositions that the listeners are familiar with instead of filling the entire performance with rare kritis. And it becomes a memorable one when the musician's performance surpasses the expectations of the rasikas. Raju’s performance was quintessential of this aspect.

Raju opened with the famous Abhogi varnam ‘Evari bodhana’ of Patnam Subramania Iyer in Adi. This was short and crisp and well in conformity with the structure of the musical form.

Dikshitar’s ‘Mahaganapthim’ in Natta and chaturasra ekam followed soon. Raju explored the swaras by tapping the potential of the instrument to the hilt.

The fast moving fingers on the upper and lower strings were in sync with the plucking. A few long strokes added to the grace of the delineation of the composition.

Filling the gaps between lines with fast moving swaras in succession is a common practice of musicians using Western fretted string instruments such as the mandolin and guitar. This is a natural fallout of the inability of such instruments to sustain long notes. But one felt this was not inevitable since Raju’s mandolin had attached to it an electronic contraption that aided prolonged duration of notes. The practice was more discernible in ‘Entaro mahanubhavulu’, Tyagaraja’s Pancharatna kirtana in Sree, Adi. Raju made it a melodious encounter by combining a few notes to create a harmonised effect.

Dharmavati received an elaborate portrayal and the composition was ‘Bhajana seya rada’, Mysore Vasudevachrya’s kriti, in Roopakam. Even as umpteen phrases brought out the intrinsic feature of the raga, the technique of keeping the basic sruti on the bass string appeared ingenious. Attukal Subramanian’s follow up (on the violin) of the raga was not only faithful but remarkable for the clarity of the notes he bowed out of the strings.

One wondered whether such a protracted delineation of Dharmavati was essential as the main raga Mohanam followed next. Moreover, the Dharmavati composition was a short one too. ‘Kapali karunai nilavu pozhi vadana madiyan oru’, the much sought-after composition of Papanasam Sivan, is a graphic description of Shiva, set to Adi. Raju did justice to the lyrics of the composer. The rendition was notable for the surfeit of swaras of the energising raga.

The percussion support by Sai Giridhar on the mridangam and the seasoned ghatam artiste Udupi Sreedhar was commendable. It was Giridhar’s maiden appearance in Thrissur. His sense of propriety while accompanying the main artiste and later during the tani was commendable. The fireworks jointly presented by the duo was brilliant.

A Sai bhajan in Misra Vakulabharanam was deft as one could get the feeling of a chorus supporting the main singer! ‘Raghuvasmsasudha’ in Kadanakuthoohalam showcased how speed cannot be a factor that is counterproductive to melody. Further, the typical Western notes of the raga provided ample chances for Raju to play a few chords for embellishments. A Lalgudi thillana in Revathi followed.

The musician concluded with ‘Bhagyalakshmi bharama nammemme’ in Madhyamavati, a composition of Purandaradasar.

The concert was organised by Rasikapriya in connection with the sixth anniversary of the outfit.