Without sacrificing aesthetics, Prema Rangarajan followed the text book.
Convincing! Most convincing! That is about the best description one can give of Prema Rangarajan’s Mandhari raga alapana as she portrayed it at her performance for Mylapore Fine Arts Club. The text book would tell you that this raga is Panthuvarali sans Dha, both in its ascent and descent. But implementation would warrant experimental thinking and a strong musical will built on sound vidwat. In the assured hands of a seasoned artiste like Prema Rangarajan, listeners had a rewarding experience. The point is that she never made aesthetics suffer in an attempt to be lay stress on grammar. This singer has also built a reputation for herself. She delves deep into hitherto unfamiliar compositions and renders them with exceptional ease and admirable confidence. In keeping with this, the Mandhari song that she took up was ‘Ennalu Thiruguthuno’ by Harikesanallur Muthaiah Bhagavathar.
‘Undedhi Ramudokadu’ (Harikhambodhi) that came before this, gives an instruction to the mind. “Eschew other beliefs excepting the one on Rama.” One of the many reasons cited is that Rama is one who does good to all. Appropriately this line came as the niraval point and was sung with meaningful splits. Swara cascades appeared thereafter. Abhogi (‘Nannubrova,’ Tyagaraja) is a raga that offers plenty of scope for organised phrases and they were presented copiously but followed an order. ‘Mani Noopura Dhari,’ Oothukkadu’s sahityam in Nilambari unfurled in a relaxed manner.
‘Sri Krishnam Bhaja Maanasa,’ a Dikshitar classic in Thodi was her main piece. This rasika at least, was yet to get out of the Mandhari-effect. All the same the Thodi alapana had narrative arcs and plenty of layered (adukku) sangatis that at some points even suggested the song that was to come.
Amritha Murali on the violin seemed to have a penchant for Abhogi and did well to raise her level of playing during the alapana. Her swara engagements were up to the mark and had an air of self-assurance in their rendering. An accomplished vocalist that she is, she must be using her vocal abilities to assist her greatly while playing the instrument. This stands her in good stead when she tackles niraval. She is able to achieve near-sahitya bhava to the extent feasible and possible.
Melakaveri Balaji (mridangam) and Madipakkam Murali (ghatam) showed good understanding in providing alternate support. Especially, the manner in which they played accompanied for the Nilambari song, with those soft and silent strokes combined well with judicious gaps, spoke volumes of their listening capacities. This duo always shows remarkable alacrity in their executions which combines well with their keen sense of anticipation. Their accompanying for the niraval and swara korvais were spot on.