Smooth flows the music

Starting with the strikingly colour-coded visual — kurtas in white, saffron, orange, chocolate and peach, against the backdrop of a rust-n-gold lighting montage — everything boded well for ‘Sur Sagar', the recital of Surdas bhajans by O.S. Arun and Sanjeev Abhyankar.

The vocalists were young enough to be insouciant, experienced enough to hold their own with music lighter than the classical in which they were trained. Of course, Arun has made a mark in devotional music, while Abhyankar has adventured in abhang and bhav geet. The harmonium (Milind Kulkarni), tablas (Arun Gawai, Sai Shravan) and additional percussion (Kalaiselvan) were handled by empathetic supporters, whose demeanour through the recital was appreciative of the vocalists.

In this their first effort in tandem singing of bhajans, the strategy was to take turns with alternate songs, while drawing support and inputs from the other, in swara-taan singing, melodising lines ( niraval) or offering choric refrain.

The opening Behag alaap was poetic even in brevity, as one voice dovetailed naturally into the other, setting a high benchmark for the evening, with the accent on emotion. Technique was very much there, but to underline vatsalya, as Arun swung from anticipation to tenderness in showing eager mother Yasoda as she wonders (‘Jasomati Mann Abhilash Kare') when her baby Krishna will sprout his first milk tooth, and start lisping.

The bard's insight

Can a blind man long to “see” the Lord? The sightless bard's insight came up next in the Sur favourite ‘Akhiyan Hari Darsan Ki Pyaasi' (Mishra Bhatiyar). A feast for the heart as Abhyankar handled it. A moving rhythm-free prelude flowed into faster beats, as charged nuancing made listeners visualise the pain of separation. Arun too emphasised the same inner vision, crucial to the bhakti tradition, in Rageshri, ‘Ankhi ni base hiya mein base'.

Mishra Janasammodini seemed perfect for switching from man's longing for God, to God's unbounded love for human beings (‘Sabse oonchi'). Didn't Krishna himself clean up the dining hall after Yudhishtira's Rajasuya sacrifice? Drive Arjuna's chariot? This theme of bonding had the singers sharing the improvisation generously. Their personalities made an unmistakable contrast here – if Abhyankar went deep, searching for the essence, Arun rose high, creating drama.

Arun's exuberance had full play in ‘Mohe Chhuwo Naa' where Surdas becomes the jealous woman, angry with a fickle lover. This was his chance to touch up the ‘Khandita nayika's' lines with satirical humour (“You are omniscient, the rest are stupid, she's your queen, I'm your maid”), and move from fury to frustration as he circled the upper shadja. Abhyankar focussed on the inner trauma, as even his ga-ma-da became an Abhogi-soaked spirit-in-ferment.

His ‘Ab mein nachoon bahut gopal' saw the evils ready to grab the soul from within. The crescendo of ‘Gopal' emphasised fear being conquered by faith.

Never a dull moment, the last song was tuned to high-spirited rapture in melaraga Gamanashrama by Arun. Krishna danced with the cowherds (‘Gopi Gopal Baal Raas Mandala') in the mellifluous exchanges, in swirling taans and swift beats. A namavali accelerated itself into the ringing finale.

‘Sur Sagar' did not fulfill its promise of reaching great heights. It never rose from the pleasant to the outstanding. The remarkable singer that he is, Abhyankar seemed to hold himself back and play a subdued role.

True, the mike alignment pleased neither Abhyankar nor the listeners, as his voice remained less robust throughout. However, this did not affect the initial or concluding segments. The sagging happened in between. Also, despite the chanting, the end seemed rather abrupt.

Expanding at least one major raga each might have added depth, and a more considered, cannier exploitation of the two tablas and the harmonium might have enriched substance. The accompanists remained too predictable to be maximally effective.

On the whole what stood out was the ability of the vocalists to meld easily, selflessly. Both exploited karvai sukham — the high that comes with a long dwelt single note (upper shadjam mostly). Moreover, ‘Sur Sagar' never lost sight of the extraordinary poetry it had chosen to present. The sense was as important to the singers as the music, and they had taken great pains to present songs of varying emotions, situations and tempos. Their venture was marked by a flawless dignity.

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2022 9:50:18 AM |

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