There was never a dull moment in Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna’s recital.
Listening to music, whether from audio systems, on AIR or at a concert hall, calls for disciplined behaviour. Absolute silence before and during a concert is imperative for a rasika to soak in the music.
The concert of vidwan Dr. M.Balamuralikrishna (MB) for Chennaiyil Tiruvaiyaru at Kamaraj Arangam, was delayed by almost 45 minutes as the stage had to be readied following the inauguration. This delay gave enough opportunity for the audience to chat loudly. Thankfully this did not affect the veteran’s performance. He was his usual composed, ever-smiling self. The intermittent bouts of coughing too did not deter his spirit.
I remember a time in the 1970s when AIR would play the record comprising his rendition of ‘Nagumomu’ (Abheri) and ‘Devathi Deva’ (Sunadavinodhini) regularly in their ‘Isai Amudham’ schedule. That sweet voice captivated many. A striking factor is that despite advancing years, his voice almost remains just as it was in the 1970s.
That evening, he promised a fare of rare Tyagaraja kritis as ordained by Goddess Saraswathi. A brief Kanakangi set the pace for the evening. ‘Sri Gananatham,’ a rare gem of the saint poet, was refreshing. ‘Raguveera Ranadheera’ (Huseni), sung at a relaxed pace, was a beauty. The welcoming of Lord Rama ‘Raa Raa Rajakumaraa’ at the end of the first line gave a feeling of the Lord virtually walking in.
Dr. MB’s mannerisms -- his broad smile acknowledging the accompanists on stage, his dancing eyebrows, his hand mudhras which look like he is holding the saptaswaras in his palms -- are all a must watch. That evening too it was not different. Detailing Nagaswarali (‘Sripathae,’ Adi), he traversed all the octaves with ease, sans grimaces. His raga essays bear a unique style yet within the raga’s parameters. The mmms and the aahs and the jumps were only musical.
Varadarajan (violin) was an inspired man who kept up with the singer’s style to a T.
Yet another rare kriti in raga Panchamam, ‘Kanikaramumchi,’ was offered followed by an emotional Devagandhari kriti, ‘Kshirasagara Sayanaa.’ The penultimate line, ‘Tarakanaama Tyagarajanuta’ touches the upper panchamam and the vidwan in Balamuralikrishna touched it and went further perfectly. His voice has not lost the sheen over several years of singing. An authentic Begada alapana was backed with ‘Tanavaaritanamu’ (Adi).
The evening’s main Kalyani saw the vidwan give it new dimensions. Commencing in the lower octaves, he slowly and steadily built an edifice of the raga using plain and gamaka oriented phrases. His breathtaking brigas were finally heard.
The lighter side of this serious pursuit was when the audience clapped assuming that the raga was over when Dr. MB bent down to cough. Where has the discerning audience of Chennai gone? The man was in full form and there was no stopping. Varadarajan’s reply again was on expected lines and thankfully he did not foray into the graha bedham which the vidvan did, resulting in two other ragas in his otherwise brilliant Kalyani alapana. It was heartening that he took up ’Ninana Valasina Theymee Ramaa,’ again a rare one. His ending the swaras at nishadam going with pallavi line and the speed variations were typical of his style.
Dr. G. Babu (mridangam) and Umashankar (ghatam) who had held forte effectively during the kriti phrase, presented a thani that was full of lively exchanges.
(Aside: Agreed, commercial considerations require placement of cameras to record concerts for telecasting later, but is the massive crane camera needed for Carnatic music? Constantly moving perilously over the audience and sometimes, dangerously close to the vidwan, it was an hindrance of sorts.)