MUSICSCAN M.V. Ramakrishnan

In her element

Last year Geetha Raja gave a captivating recital featuring the compositions of Papanasam Sivan exclusively, at the Narada Gana Sabha. And a few days ago she gave an earnest and powerful performance of a fine selection of Gopalakrishna Bharati’s Tamil songs on Lord Siva, at the Music Academy.

If you closed your eyes and listened, you could well imagine that it was veteran violinist M. S. Gopalakrishnan who was accompanying Geetha Raja. But, of course, you knew it was his daughter and prime disciple Narmadha. She usually restrains her MSG touches, when she performs as an accompanist; but this time she let them have a free flow, which is very desirable because the performance raises the bar not only for herself but also for the vocalist. Sure enough, the vocalist was in her elements, with fine raga alapanas and swara improvisations for a couple of compositions ‘Sattrae Vilagiyirum Pillaai’ in Poorvikalyani, and ‘Tiruvadi Charanam’ in Khambodi, and simpler but very forceful versions of several other songs, including ‘Vazhi Maraikkudae’ (Nattaikkurinji), ‘Thillai Ambalathaanai’ (Surutti), and ‘Aadum Chidambaramo’ (Behag).

And with J. Vaidyanathan playing the mridangam with his usual elegance, the performance of the trio had a vibrant quality which effectively balanced the extremely slow tempo which was adopted throughout the recital for preserving the distinctly meditative quality of the composer’s vision. A notable thing about the concert was the fine quality of the sound system and control. In particular, the sruti sounded unusually clear and sensitive, with a well-tuned tambura in place and -- believe it or not -- no electronic sruti-box to spoil its natural tone!

Quite intriguingly, the true highlights of the concert weren’t really the more elaborate numbers in the middle, but the frequently-heard composition, ‘Sabaapathikku,’ in Abhogi (which came at an early stage), and the Nandanar song, ‘Varugalaamo?’ in Manji (which was the intensely moving climax of the whole recital).

The Abhogi song made me recall Aruna Sairam’s versions of it in different concerts -- which wasn’t surprising, given the fact that she and Geetha are sisters-in-law who had stayed in the same house (in Bombay) and learnt music together (from Brindamma) once upon a time! As for ‘Varugalaamo,’ I couldn’t help recalling that it was also the emotionally gripping climax of a wonderful concert given by M.D. Ramanathan, the grandmaster of meditative music, at the Shanmukhananda Sabha in Bombay 40 years ago. Had Geetha Raja heard that performance, I wonder!


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Printable version | Jul 29, 2021 11:28:53 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/m_v_ramakrishnan/In-her-element/article12572612.ece

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