Mystic aura of MDR

As I was fishing in my old files for my review of a memorable 1981 concert of vocal maestro T.V. Gopalakrishnan, for quoting certain parallel impressions in the context of his recent MDR-memorial concert at Hamsadhwani ( Friday Review, May 25), I came across old reviews and essays of mine on the music of M.D. Ramanathan, particularly in the evening papers in Bombay and New Delhi. Those first-hand impressions had effectively captured the mystic aura surrounding MDR's image, and I can't resist quoting some of them here and now:

Free Press Bulletin, Bombay, Dec. 1967:

The way his unique silk-and-steel voice fills your whole consciousness, not only while you hear it, but for a long time afterwards; the mystic power of his very presence under the limelight; the intensity of his own emotions and the integrity of his devotion -- these are some of the things which overwhelm the sensitive listener who wants music to be an experience of the soul and not just an exercise of the mind...

Free Press Bulletin, Bombay, 1968:

MDR -- with his majestic voice, his slow, serene tempo, and his deep emotional commitment -- not only packs more meaning into the text of every composition, but anticipates and reveals its subtler nuances even in the wordless alapana preceding it. That's why he can stretch a Carnatic music recital to phenomenal lengths and still distil its essence for you all the way...

Bharat Jyoti, Bombay (Sunday edition of Free Press Journal), April 1969:

His massive three-dimensional voice, which has all the solidity and all the smoothness of a marble column; the pulsating expressions on his face, and the myriad graceful gestures he makes with his hands; the serene, stately progression of his music (so much like that of Balasaraswati's dancing!), which gives his music a monumental quality; the inspiring influence of his utter devotion, which converts the concert hall into a place of worship -- these are obviously some of MDR's strongest points....

In his perceptive rendering of Hindolam, Darbar and Kharaharapriya on these occasions, we had glimpses of a fascinating, elusive world of sound, in which sentiment and intellect blended in a mystic awareness of forces far beyond our normal vision...

Hindustan Times Evening News, New Delhi, 1975:

I wasn't a lover of Carnatic music to start with... (but) was only fond of Western music... I admired Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. I was thrilled by the powerful voices of Mario Lanza, Benjamino Gigli and Paul Robson...

Unhurried rendition

I was living in a Tamil Nadu town in 1963... Late one evening, I switched on the radio for the 9 p.m. English news... and someone was singing Carnatic music... It was a full, deep-throated bass, something I had never associated with Indian music. And the music was flowing in a stately, unhurried manner so uncharacteristic of Carnatic music… I was fascinated, and waited breathlessly for the announcer to tell me the name of the singer: it was M.D. Ramanathan.

A few weeks later I travelled 200 miles by train to Madras to hear a full-length recital by MDR. And what I heard taught me something more: that MDR's music wasn't just Voice, but also Spirit. I sat transfixed for three hours as he sang in his characteristically slow tempo, meditating rather than entertaining. Suddenly sound acquired a mystic beauty which I hadn't found even in Bach or Beethoven...

And since Carnatic music rests wholly on a religious base, my agnostic mind at once began to see spiritual light. My life has never been the same again. Since then I have attended hundreds of Indian music concerts. I have made friends with many great musicians. I have learnt a little bit of Carnatic music myself, and have even become a music critic. But I can never forget the fact that it is through MDR that I discovered the beauties of Carnatic music -- and, on a larger plane, the whole mystique of Indian music.

(To be concluded)

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Printable version | Jul 29, 2021 3:40:26 PM |

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