T here is always a counter to every trend. In the case of Carnatic music -- as opposed to the flamboyance and glamour of the mainstream – there is a quieter and remarkably self-assured stream that holds together its richness and diversity. Some of the concerts at the December Music Season in Chennai and recent concerts at the Sankranti Festival of Sri Rama Lalitha Kala Mandira bear ample examples.
The violin trio led by the veteran musician H.K. Narasimha Murthy is a case in point. Along with the acclaimed violinist, his son H.N. Bhaskar and granddaughter Prithvi -- the concert was an aural treat. The recital began with raga Dwijavanti and moved on to Hamsadhwani, a raga that is highly favoured by instrumentalists. Even with a composition like “Vatapi” where the musician can go overboard, HKN was a picture of restraint, while Bhaskar used the opportunity to come with flourishes. For “Janani Ninuvina”, the Reetigowla krithi, HKN rendered a crisp and soothing alapane. His approach is melody oriented and even a thought that is an outcome of intelligence, gets interpreted by HKN through emotion.
The biggest surprise was the 14-year-old Prithvi, who is as composed and self-assured as her grandfather. She played the alapane for “Entha Muddo Entha Sogaso” the lovely kriti set to Bindumalini raga, and how evocatively she laid it out! Not once, did Prithvi lose control over the poignant contours of the raga, which she unravelled, in a manner most profound. Prithvi is blessed with an unhurried musical persona which was evident even when she played the swaraprasthara and neraval. Her understanding of laya is as strong as that of melody. So, even when Bhaskar laid out a tapestry of brisk and catchy phrases, HKN and Prithvi, remained unswayed and stuck to their respective idioms.
Bhaskar was extraordinary in his rendition of Bhairavi and Kanada to which the Raga Tana Pallavi was set. His gushing imagination empowered by flawless artistry infused his playing with a rare timbre.
The trio played with sensitive understanding towards each other’s manodharma, always working complementarily. “Venkatachala Nilayam” and “Aadisadaleshoda” were certainly not tailenders. They took the concert to a quieting crescendo – so much so that it felt even a single word would disrupt the whole experience.
G.S. Ramanujan on the mridangam was at his creative best. His anticipation was perfect and his following perceptive. The tani avartanam with the ghatam artiste Srishyla and VS Ramesh on morsing is something to be remembered for a long time to come.
Dr. Padma Suguvanam’s vocal concert was striking for its aesthetic design. Her beautiful, solid voice kept pushing the articulative frames of the ragas that she chose for the evening.
Todi, was grand and intense. Groomed under a guru like Seetha Rajan, her sturdy, uncompromising classicism kept the audience under her spell. In one of the most leisurely raga delineation one has heard in the recent times, “Sarasijanabha Murare” in Todi was a stunner. The pace that she chose was much slower than the cherished version by MLV, but Padma handled it with dedication and well-honed expertise.
Whether it was alapane, the rendition of the kriti, the neraval or swaraprasthara, Padma gave each of these aspects equal attention. She treated them as individual entities, but completely conscious of the overall architecture of the Todi she created. Padma, was creatively responding to her own manodharma, as she kept pushing the boundaries of the raga in the upper octaves.
With an accompanying violinist like B.K. Raghu the concert undoubtedly gets elevated. His unusual artistry is a beacon of inspiration to the main artiste. One must recall his extraordinary rendition at the Music Academy, accompanying V.K. Raman’s flute concert. Raghu’s rendition of Todi and Mohana for the Raga Tana Pallavi was exceptional. Padma soulfully wove Lalitha, Hamsanandi and others to her RTP in Mohana. Her complex manoevering of laya both in Todi and Mohana kept the accomplished mridangist B.C. Manjunath and the audience entirely hooked. To say the least, her music is a lesson in sincerity and surrender.
The Sabhas need to indeed take a cue -- the inner springs are rich and deep. It is time they paved way for those who hold on to the art form against all odds.