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The four-hour challenge in Carnatic music


Young Bharat Narayanan produced a rich variety of ragas and kritis but the very concept might need rethinking

A four-hour Carnatic concert can be quite the feat to attempt. Sunaadalahari, the musical wing of the Indira Ranganathan Trust, has been organising a monthly series of such marathons in an effort to revive the old practice when concerts would go on for hours. It was the young and upcoming vocalist Bharat Narayanan who entered the lists this time. While his assets include a voice with a good range and timbre, the young artiste needs to focus a little more on time management, and his rendition left a little something to be desired.

‘Vanajakshi’, the Kalyani Ata tala varnam, was indeed a good start. So was Muthiah Bhagavatar’s composition ‘Ghum Ganapathey’ in Hamsadhwani. As it was a Sunday, Dikshitar’s Navagraha kriti ‘Suryamurthe’ in Sowrashtram was an apt choice too. Bharat did manage to package a variety of ragas and compositions, including Ramanathapuram Srinivasa Iyengar’s ‘Samayamitheyani’ in Devamanohari and Dr. M. Chandrasekaran’s ‘Dharmavati’ in Dharmavati raga.

He went on to a treatment of Nattakurinji in which his sincere effort to bring out the beauty of the raga was evident in his rendition. But, due to a somewhat disorganised collection of phrases, this didn’t have much of an impact. His delivery of the composition — Syama Sastri’s ‘Mayamma nannu brova’ — does deserve credit for its sobriety as well as a creative take on ‘Shyamale neelotpale’ and the swara section.

The same problem with disorganised phrases could be seen later, when he essayed Sankarabharanam for his centrepiece. The composition this time was a swarajati by his mother, the musician Baby Sreeram, along the lines of Syama Sastri’s ‘Amba Kamakshi’. Unfortunately, here he tried to weave in swaras landing on every charanam line; the result was more a maze of swaras than a calculated approach.

Unusual thani

The camaraderie between Bharat and violinist R. Raghul enhanced the concert. And with time at their disposal, nearly an hour was offered to the percussionists, B. Sivaraman (mridangam) and K.V. Gopalakrishnan (kanjira). The rhythmic exchanges between the duo were subtle, strong and electrifying .

Other ragas and kritis included in the lengthy agenda were Nayaki (‘Dayaleni prathukemi’ by Tyagaraja), Hindolam (‘Maanavakula bhooshanam,’ composed by G.N. Balasubramaniam in praise of Tyagaraja), Malavi (‘Rama nee dasudane’ by Voleti Venkateswarulu), Varamu (‘Maname unakku’ by T.M. Tyagarajan), Suddha Saranga (Thiruppugazh) and a thillana, again by Baby Sreeram.

Personally speaking, I think four-hour concerts are bound to be daunting for musicians and rasikas both. Times have changed and so have tastes. Such marathon concerts need extraordinary expertise and may be challenging for budding artistes. A concert’s quality is decided not by its length but by its eminence.

The Chennai-based author writes on music and culture.



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