OST @ Music Academy – Dec 28, 2015

Team: O.S.Thyagarajan (OST) – T.H.Subramaniam (violin) – K.V.Prasad (mridangam) – B.S.Purushottam (kanjira)

There is always a sense of completeness in O.S.Thyagarajan’s concerts.   OST’s concerts demonstrate that when one is steadfast to tradition and when the artist adheres to principles without playing unduly to the gallery, there will always be something for everyone, the connoisseur and the laity alike.

Beginning with the Kalyani adi tala varnam vanajakshi (attributed to Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar and fiercely disputed by many others!), OST rather surprisingly sang Tyagaraja’s Muddumomu next after singing just a snatch of an alapana of Suryakantam.  A relaxed and involved Nee bhaktibhagya sudhaa (Jayamanohari – Rupaka – Tyagaraja) followed.  Crisp and brief one avartana swaras were sung for all the items till then.  Swaras for the pallavi line for the Jayamanohari kriti were especially charming particularly the swaras ending in the upper octave d s’ r’ g’ m’ Nee bhakti with the nee being rendered as a descending phrase from the taara sthaayi madhyama with a smooth and effortless briga.

Perhaps the submain was the biggest surprise.   OST sang an expansive alapana of Vasantabhairavi.  The very first phrase firmly established the raga and OST being the veteran he is, rendered the alapana with ease and abandon alternating the slow phrases with the fast with just the right doses.  I was listening to such an elaborate alapana of Vasantabhairavi after a very long time and to me the raga alapana in particular was pure delight.  Well-known violinist from Thrissur, T.H.Subramaniam responded to the alapana admirably with aplomb.

OST presented Muthuswami Dikshitar’s Prasanna Venkateswaram set to tisra jati triputa tala.  Though I have known that this kriti is part of OST’s vast repertoire, I was nevertheless hearing it from him for the first time.  OST rendered the beautiful kriti taking care to enunciate and highlight the saahitayam clearly.  Particularly OST’s evocative rendering of the line ‘rasikashEkharam kRpAkaram rakSita bhakta Anandakaram’ struck an indelible chord making it a proverbial ‘aha’ moment!

Once again succinct one avartana sarva laghu swaras with apt responses by T.H.Subramaniam were rendered and the kriti was brought to a very satisfying close.  It made me draw a sort-of parallel – the late D.K.Jayaraman made Dikshitar’s Kannada Bangala kriti Renuka Devi his very own; here was OST who definitely has made Prasanna Venkateswaram his own!

OST next rendered Syama Sastri’s taruNamIdammA in Gowlipantu, followed by Tyagaraja’s sanAtanA paramapAvana in Phalamanjari.  That OST has a penchant for Tyagaraja kritis is well-known.  I will never forget the akhandam (organized by Ghatam V.Suresh and others) held earlier this year in February at the Sri Raghavendra Swami Temple in Dr. Ranga Road, Mylapore.  OST sang at 2:00 AM and his unflagging energy at that hour, and the complete dedication with which he rendered several Tyagaraja kritis in quick succession without pausing for any breath was truly mind-boggling.

Coming back to the concert, when the time was around 9:55 AM, OST launched into an expansive alapana of Kambhoji.  OST developed the raga traditionally by starting off on the panchamam and then moving to the taara sthaayi.  After effortlessly delving into the ocean of Kambhoji in that octave he then proceeded to come down to the Madhya sthaayi dhaivatam and finally ended the elaborate and extremely wholesome alapana.

T.H.Subramaniam, on the contrary, started the alapana from the mandhara sthaayi – his first few phrases almost reminiscent of Dikshitar’s masterpiece Sri Subramanyaya Namaste.  With his violin’s tonal quality being wonderfully sonorous, T.H.Subramaniam in turn played a leisurely and unhurried alapana, traversing all the octaves, painting his own picture of the raga.  Rightfully OST himself was deeply appreciative of the THS’ response to his Kambhoji alapana!

The kriti?

Okay, the kriti was O Rangasaayi!  With doubt, it is Tyagaraja’s ever popular masterpiece and arguably the most popular kriti ever in Kambhoji.   As OST started the grand composition, I was led to ponder upon one point – how many times would this kriti have been rendered at the dais of the Music Academy?  In all probability Music Academy herself would have clearly lost count!

Yet, when OST began O Rangasaayi, the delighted ripple that it sent through the vast audience was unmistakable.  As I observed the people of my row sitting up straight and thereupon enthusiastically ‘’putting’’ the talam, one point was very evident.  No matter how many times a kriti like O Rangasaayi is rendered, these masterpieces will always, ALWAYS generate fulsome enthusiasm among the listeners, even if rendered for the nth time.  Of course, the pedigree of the vidwan or the vidushi is a major factor and hence if someone of OST’s stature renders O Rangasaayi, then the audience’s enthusiastic response is practically a given!

This point was underscored further when OST executed the niraval at the customary line ‘’Bhooloka vaikuntam’’.  The senior vidwan took his time to develop the niraval and this was obviously no mechanical exercise.  OST’s sheer comfort with the aspect of niraval per se and him being supremely ‘’at home’’ in  the taara sthaayi was exhibited in full glory as he sang the elaborate niraval and after traversing all over the upper octave, finally came to rest on the life note of Kambhoji, which is the taara sthaayi gandhaaram.  The culmination of the superb niraval in keezh kaalam ended in a spontaneous and enthusiastic applause.

Veteran K.V.Prasad on the mridangam has full understanding of sahityam which he exhibited in his thoughtful and sensitive playing throughout the concert.  B.S.Purushottam, another well-known star kanjira player responded likewise.  It was interesting to see to Purshottam respond to the vocalist while Prasad played for the violinist in some of the segments of the niraval and during the kuraippu swaras.

A delectable Muruganin Marupeyar Azhagu of Guru Surajananda in Behag and Khanda chapu (tuned by T.M.Thyagarajan) and OST’s compulsory piece that he renders in every concert as the last item – Tyagaraja’s Naadupai (Madhyamavati, Khanda Chapu) brought this wonderfully satisfying concert to a fulfilling close.

As the curtains came down and as we audience stood up and prepared to move towards the exit, I heard a rasika in the row behind remark that there was no Ragam, Tanam and Pallavi.  His companion returned quick as lightning, “but there was absolutely no NEED for a Pallavi!’’

Amen!  🙂

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About Mohan Santhanam

Carnatic vocalist, based in Chennai. Disciple of Late Shri T.R.Subramanyam (TRS).
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