Monday, 3 March 2014

The relaxing effect of a four-hour concert

By TT Narendran

One of the trappings of the modern age has been the undue pressure on an individual’s time; even the relaxation we seek has to be bound by the clock. Old-timers go nostalgic over the Sunday concerts of yesteryear that commenced at 4-15 or 4-25 p.m. (for a well-known superstitious reason) and spanned four hours, presenting Carnatic music in all its grandeur; they loathe the capsule form of the present day.

Sarvani Sangeetha Sabha’s venture to organize an old-style four-hour concert on a Sunday (26 February), when even driving through the roads of Chennai gives you a feeling of visranti, was laudable. Organizers would normally have to worry both about sustaining the interest of the audience and the stamina of the performing artist to last such a duration.

Neither of the fears surfaced at a recent concert by young Rithvik Raja, who was able to retain the moderate turnout at the Tattvaloka auditorium in Chennai. An artist who has managed to bring forth the promise he showed a year ago, Rithvik has matured remarkably as a vocalist in recent times. He used this occasion to render a few of the grand compositions of the Trinity with aplomb. The concert had a simple beginning with the Adi tala varnam(Chalamela) in Natakurinji. Thereafter, he kept a small element of surprise within the conventional format of a concert. Todi (Rajuvedala, Tyagaraja) was the first raga to be essayed with swaras embellishing the charana line Kaveridheeramuna. A short alapana of Sri prefaced Tyagaraja’s pancharatna kriti, Endaromahanubhavulu. His grasp of the raga was evident in the manner in which he placed the gandhara, steering clear of other allied ragas in this region of the octave. His voice glowed in the bass register and the kriti was rendered with the intended effect of the composer to the sensitive percussion accompaniment of J Vaidhyanathan (mridangam), Anirudh Athreya (khanjira) and G Chandrasekhara Sarma (ghatam). They took turns to play for the different charanas and steered clear of drowning the voice amidst a rhythmic ensemble.

Gowla was chosen for elaboration and Dikshitar’s Tyagarajapalayasumam was rendered at a pace that created the mood for peace, serenity and relaxation. Rithvik was comfortable in elaborating the raga that is not commonly chosen for this mode of improvisation. The niraval embellishment showcased his vidwat and the trademark of his guru TM Krishna’s earlier genre of concert-music. Aligning with the “pace and spin” formula of concert music, he sang Mariveredikku (Shanmukhapriya, Patnam Subramania Iyer) at a brisk pace and embellished it with swaras. He went on to sing an alapana of Yadukulakambhoji which appears to be a favourite raga of his and rendered Syama Sastry’s swarajati (Kamakshi), emulating his guru and doing him proud, too. The baton passed on to the percussion wing for the tani avartanam, which continued in the same sombre mood, yet managing to tie down most of the break-seekers to their seats!

When Rithvik resumed after the session for percussion, his voice began to sound better than before providing a lot of saukhyam when he sang Intasaukhyamanine (Kapi, Tyagaraja). A quick Bhogeendrasayinam (Kuntalavarali, Swati Tirunal) preceded the Ragam, Tanam and Pallavi in Poorvikalyani. The professionally competent execution of this centrepiece with the repetition of the pallavi in various speeds and gaits and some pleasing ragamalika swaras could simply not capture the magic created by the evocative music in the first half of the concert. 

The last phase had a portion of the dhyanasloka that precedes the Vishnu Sahasranamam. Rithvik’s aesthetic sense was evident in the ragas he chose for the viruttam. He concluded with a song in Jaunpuri (Sapasyat Kausalya) and a less-heard mangalam. Nagai Sriram provided good support on the violin. He has good control over the bow and over laya. While these are assets for an accompanying violinist, there did appear a difference in the styles and in the approaches to elaboration of ragas between the vocalist and the violinist.

To the credit of the artists, it must be said that none of them showed any sign of fatigue, nor did they let the audience feel so. It was an enjoyable experience, a luxury that may not be possible during the mad rush of the season or on a working day.

Considering that Carnatic music is largely an entertainment for the geriatric population to go by the general audience in concerts, will it be a good idea to have a break after two hours or is such an interval still taboo for our rasikas and musicians?

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