Song of Surrender

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Oli Chamber Concert

By Vivadi

OS Thiagarajan
 
When OS Thiagarajan sang three phrases of Kedaragowla to start his concert, each phrase, short, simple and stylish at once, oozing the raga’s essence, we knew he meant business. The Kedaragowla varnam was followed by another businesslike Hamsadhwani, laced with a spicy swaraprastaram. The swara designs—as they were throughout the concert—were intelligent without being clever, perfectly interlocking within the scheme of the raga and the kriti without sounding planned, and rendered with a spontaneous ease that belied their knottiness.

On the best of days, Athana is a ragam that defies clear definition. Musicians over the years have relied as much on lakshya as lakshana to bring out its flavours, for its lakshana is elusive and, perhaps, continuously evolving. Thiagarajan’s swarams for Narada gana lola, thriving on the raga’s eccentric nishadam and its relationship with the dhaivatam, panchamam, shadjam and rishabham, found that lakshya core. S. Varadarajan’s responses on the violin—shadowing the kriti, improvising sangatis, jamming on the swaras, probing the vocalist’s ideas—were thrilling.
 
A peer often understands an artiste’s art better than a rasika. When N. Ramani, who was supposed to play on this day but could not due to illness, asked the Oli Team to invite OS Thiagarajan, he specifically requested Thiagarajan to sing Ekamresa in Shanmukhapriya. “His Shanmukhapriya is special,” Ramani told us. And he was right. Thiagarajan invested the raga with abundant rakti. Spinning a raga alapana as if it were a story of the journey of the panchamam through Shanmukhapriya’s contours, he sang with verve, simmering intensity and imagination.
 
Mysore Vasudevarcharya’s Sankari in Pantuvarali was an exercise in saukhyam—a word for which there seems to be no exact English equivalent. Arun Prakash’s ideas while following Misrachapu talam can be special, and when he played for the niraval, Thiagarajan and Varadarajan seemed to be feeding off his rhythmic patterns, developing them into round after round of measured fireworks. The connection—perhaps subconscious—between the raga and the patterns Arun Prakash uses to underline it, was revealed by a close scrutiny of his playing for Athana, Hamsadhwani, Shanmukhapriya, and the Kharaharapriya that followed.
 
The concert until this point was a build-up to a grand Kharaharapriya. Toying with the raga’s many shadja-panchama intervals—like the shadjam and the panchamam, the rishabham and the dhaivatam, the gandharam and the nishadam, the madhyamam and the shadjam, the panchamam and the rishabham—Thiagarajan made the alapana a sumptuous feast. Varadarajan, in complete command of the emotional core of the ragam, provided a response brimming with emotion. Fittingly, the composition chosen was Tyagaraja’s Mitri bhagyamu. After all, it was the bard who shaped Kharaharapriya’s distinctive identity.
 
When he accepted to sing for Oli, Thiagarajan admitted that he had never sung without amplification, and that he would take this as a challenge. If this was a challenge for him, it didn’t show. He sang with such effortlessness—his voice didn’t strain in the tara sthayi, or struggle to be heard in the mandhra sthayi either—that the audience did not miss the microphone one bit. It was a supreme performance by a master who, we feel, is a little underrated.
 
Varnam - Kedaragowla - Adi - Tiruvotriyur Tyagayyar
Pahi pahi - Hamsadhwani - Rupakam - Chidambara Bharati
Narada gana lola - Athana - Rupakam - Tyagaraja
Ekamresa - Shanmukhapriya - Adi - Muthuswami Dikshitar
Sankari - Pantuvarali - Misrachapu - Mysore Vasudevacharya
Mitri bhagyamu - Kharaharapriya - Adi - Tyagaraja
Viruttam - Sahana
Vandanamu - Sahana - Adi - Tyagaraja
Naadupai - Madhyamavati - Khandachapu - Tyagaraja
Mangalam - Sourashtra - Adi- Tyagaraja

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