Carnatic music shall prevail. That is the feeling I left Nada Inbam with following Ashwath Narayanan’s vocal concert, during which he was ably accompanied by K.P. Nandini on the violin and Sumesh Narayanan on the mridangam.
Ashwath started with a short sketch of Kedaram and eased into ‘Tyagaraja gurum ashraye’, a varnam composed by M.D. Ramanathan. During Papanasam Sivan’s ‘Tatvamariya tarama’ (Reetigowla), the violin exchanged fast swara-s with the vocalist, ending in the familiar ‘ma, ni, ni, dha…’ refrain made popular by Madurai Mani.
Swati Tirunal’s ‘Deva deva jagadeeshwara’ was rendered with alapana and a creative neraval section. Nandini, whose bowing was pleasant throughout, ably repeated the vocalist’s brisk swara patterns.
After ‘Vaiyattu vaazhveergal’ in Gowla, during which Ashwath maintained Adi talam in 2 kalai-s, a competent alapana in Bowli was delivered for Papanasam Sivan’s ‘Karunanidhiye taye’. For a brief while, however, it had sounded like Purvikalyani.
The main raga for the concert, Begada, was elaborated on in a well-structured manner. Apart from a flatter-sounding ‘ma’ during the occasional flourishes attempted in the latter stages, the alapana bore the stamp of classicism. The Tyagaraja kriti, ‘Nadopasana’, was rendered with much splendour.
Sumesh was brilliant during the tani, rattling off fast passages. Despite his flamboyant playing style, young Sumesh was never intrusive, which is a hard-to-acquire and admirable trait.
The post-tani session contained Bharatiyar’s ‘Sentamizh nadenum’, a viruttam and ‘Ramanai taruvai’, both set in Sindhubhairavi and composed by Arunachala Kavi.
The penultimate item was a Kabir bhajan (‘Bhajo re bhaiyya’) set in Sumanesharanjani. The concert ended with ‘Orutti maganai pirandu’ (Behag).
Ashwath has good diction in all the languages in the vilamba kalam. Fast delivery occasionally marred the lyrics, as it happened during the fast charanam of ‘Karunanidhiye’ and during his fast swara passages.
These might well have been ephemeral blemishes on the day, but nevertheless, are not to be glossed over in the longer run.
Overall, the artistes, playing as a team, enjoyed themselves on stage and their enthusiasm was infectious. The audience seemed to leave the concert hall with the belief that nothing ails Carnatic music that timely encouragement cannot cure.
(Arunn Narasimhan is a faculty member at IIT-Madras and writes regularly about science and music on the internet.)