Ambience matters a lot for enjoying a concert of Carnatic music. A nagaswaram recital in an enclosed chamber with mike amplification and a veena recital in an outdoor setting are at an equal disadvantage where listening pleasure goes. The Hamsadhwani auditorium at the youth hostel premises in Indira Nagar is hardly conducive to soft instrumental music, in view of the wall-less structure.

For over a decade, Hamsadhwani has provided a platform to scores of NRIs who have managed to learn classical music in the countries of their residence. One such musician was Vishaal Sapuram (chitravina) with Ravi Srinivasan (violin) and Sanjay Subramanian (mridangam), on Sunday.

The concert opened with Sami ninne kori, the well-known varnam in Shri, rendered in two speeds. The slower version was particularly melodious. While playing Deva deva kalayami in Mayamalavagoula, Vishaal played swaras at the charanam line jataroopa; a few spells of neraval might have added value to the concert. Hamsanadam was the raga for the first alapana.

Classicism comes naturally to this instrument, and Vishaal has mastered it well enough to express his conception of the raga. The overall impact, however, was rather muted owing to the ambience. Unlike wind instruments, the sounds of the stringed instruments of the veena family do not soar in the upper octave. This affects the overall effectiveness of the concert, creating a somewhat dull atmosphere. Oottukadu Venkatasubbier's Kalyanarama was rendered with neraval and swaras. Again, unfamiliar compositions played on instruments are lost on the audience, who typically relate to the rendition through the vocal versions that they have heard before.

The bhava of Ahiri came out in full when Vishaal rendered Shyama Shastri's Mayamma. The kriti sounded tailor-made for this instrument. Shankarabharanam was the main raga for the evening. The beauty of the raga was projected well with all its curves, glides and nuances. Akshayalingavibho, Dikshitar's masterpiece was rendered nicely and swaras were played for the charanam line badarivana, which has a tricky eduppu. Sanjay played a brief tani in Mishra Chapu after this song. Though he seemed a bit self-conscious, he was adequate for the occasion but the violinist was clearly below par. The message from the team on the stage seemed to be, “You cannot paint all the NRI musicians with the same brush!”

The concert concluded with a tillana in Sindhubhairavi composed by Vishaal's guru Ravikiran.

Other than announcing Akshayalingavibho as a composition of Shyama Shastri, Vishaal did nothing wrong on stage! He is a promising youngster who still has some way to go.

(T.T. Narendran teaches at the Department of Management Studies, IIT-Madras; is a vainika and a connoisseur of music)