Dr. S. Sunder is among those musicians who are strong votaries of traditional approach to music, wherein ragas and kritis are presented without deviating from the time-tested method. In the concerts of such artistes, there is no aggressiveness or showmanship. The effort is to be to the point and perfect.
A bouquet of enjoyable kritis by various composers and in different ragas marked Sunder’s presentation at the Navarathri series, hosted by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. He was accompanied by his student J.B. Keerthana on the vocals, Narmadha on the violin, Sumesh Narayanan on the mridangam and Sai Subramanian on the morsing.
As the concert was themed on Navaratri, the kritis that he chose were on Devi. The evening began with Muthaiah Bhagavatar’s ‘Sri raja mathangi’, a tana varnam in raga Suddha Dhanyasi, which set the stage for the other Devi kritis to follow. But Sunder’s next was a rare composition on Ganesha, ‘Maha ganapathe palayasumam’, by Dikshitar in Nata Narayani. The inclusion of this composition amidst a series of Devi kritis was not surprising because no classical performance is complete without paying obeisance to Ganesha. He sang another kriti on Shakti — Syama Sastri’s ‘Tarunam edamma’ in Gowli Pantu, before moving on to present a brief treatise of the vivacious raga Nalinakanti. Sunder handled it with elegance and brought to the fore the characteristic features of the raga. And his choice of kriti was Thanjavur Sankara Iyer’s ‘Nathajana palini nalinakanti’. A few rounds of swarakalpana set on the pallavi adorned the kriti.
After the lilting Nalinakanti, there was a shift in the mood, when Sunder opened his next kriti on the anupallavi line ‘Bhavarogam ara veru maundedu, from the song, ‘Shivagama sundari’, set in raga Mukhari by Papanasam Sivan. The composer pleads to Shakti for her benevolence. The rendition carried ample piety. Syama Sastri’s ‘Nannu brovu lalitha’, in raga Lalitha, turned the atmosphere vibrant again. It seamlessly segued into ‘Sri mahabalagiri nivasini’ by Muthaiah Bhagavatar in a unique raga, Saranga Malhar.
The melodious raga Hemavati was chosen as the main. The opening section was presented by Keerthana, and then Sunder took over to convey the subtle nuances and sing the soulful and sonorous phrases of the raga. Can there be a better choice than Dikshitar’s ‘Sri kanthimathim’ here? After the slow, steady and poignant rendition of the kriti, Sunder elaborated on the ‘Shuka shaunakadi sadaradhikam’ line with touching combinations. The swarakalpana traversed through both slow and fast tempos, but without any excesses.
Narmadha with her long innings in the field proved to be a perfect foil to Sunder’s conventional approach to ragas, swaras and kritis. She punctuated her Hemavati raga essay with strong and poignant phrases. Sumesh and Sai Subramanian were fully aware of the vocalist’s prerogative. However, their tani avartanam was brisk, bright and colourful.
The concluding pieces were ‘Ninnai charan adainthen’ in Punnagavarali by Subramania Bharati, and ‘Palisemma muddu sharade’ in Bhimpalas by Purandaradasar.
The Chennai-based writer reviews Carnatic music.