Rather than a rushed mini concert, Saketharaman chose his playlist with care and sang with sedate ease
As the city’s virtual music season moves towards its final phase, a notable downside in an otherwise breakthrough experiment has been the monotonous look and feel of the concerts and a template-driven format. With permanent sets and unchanging lighting and camera angles, it’s been hard to find any visual or spatial relief. And what makes it worse is how some musicians have adapted to the shorter format by cutting down on the content, harking back to the old era of album recordings.
Thankfully, Saketharaman’s concert was pleasantly different. Instead of presenting a miniaturised version of a three-hour concert, he chose his content carefully: A 17-minute long Karaharapriya to begin with, a fairly detailed Sahana, and a 50-minute long Ragam Tanam Pallavi in Madhuvanthi with three shorter pieces in Bilahari, Maand and Kurinji thrown in between. There was no rush, it had the same gait and spread of a regular concert, and a mixed flavour of ragas. Saketharaman curated the concert around a theme, ‘Tyagayyarum Thamizh Thyaggayarum – Tyagaraja and Papanasam Sivan,’ presenting compositions by both. He also gave brief contextual introductions to each song that he presented.
The centre-piece of the concert was his RTP in Madhuvanthi, a Hindustani raga that has long since been borrowed by Carnatic music. Although there have been a few compositions, including the famous ‘Kanda naal mudhalai’ by Thanjavur S. Kalyanaraman and a Lalgudi thillana, there haven’t been many detailed expositions in the raga, except an RTP by Sanjay Subrahmanyan.
It’s a raga with innate romance, beauty and tenderness, and Saketh’s alapana embodied both. He traversed through the raga languorously while gently caressing its sweet spots and slowly summoning up an atmosphere of affection and intimacy. The Tanam that followed maintained the same mood with spirited violin replays by H.N. Bhaskar. What was notable also was the dynamics that N.C. Bharadwaj created on his mridangam, making it sometimes sound almost like the human voice, to suit the ethos of the raga and Saketh’s rendition. The pallavi was both in Sanskrit and Tamil, denoting Tyagaraja and Papanasam Sivan respectively, and was followed by Ragamalika swarams in Gowlai, Saramathi and Sivaranjani.
Karaharapriya, a favourite raga
Saketh’s concert began with a virutham ‘Innum dayavillaya’ in Karaharapriya, a favourite raga of both Tyagaraja and Sivan. It was preceded by a highly evocative Pasuram by Thondaradipodi Azhwar, ‘Oor illen kaani illai’. The virutham was replete with delicate sangatis, an attribute that Saketh is known for, which accentuated its meaning, particularly the pleas to god for mercy. His swaras and acceleration soon kicked up a lively laya in which Bharadwaj, Anirudh Athreya (kanjira) and Bhaskar joined as an ensemble. It was a vibrant start to the concert. “Digital concerts are the T20 equivalents in music. The power-play overs start from the first ball,” says Saketh.
Sahana is an over-exposed raga and can be tiring if sung with excessive rakti; but Saketh’s ‘Emanadichevo’ (Tyagaraja) that came next had a slightly neutral flavour. It was a bit slower to suit the meaning of the song (Will you converse with me?) and had longish glides. I thought the characteristic gamakas didn’t curve too much and hence the alapana sounded more sophisticated and less predictable. He immediately threw in a quick ‘Kanukontini’ in Bilahari by Tyagaraja before moving on to the RTP, which was followed by a virutham and the popular composition, ‘Ramanai bhajithal’ in Maand by Papanasam Sivan.
The end piece, a lullaby ‘Kanne en kanmaniye’ in Kurunji by Papanasam Sivan, was outstanding. Saketh usually aces in speed and musical imagination in the pallavis and swaras, but in this rendition he went ultra-slow, fully personalising the spirit and emotion of a lullaby. I have never heard him in such a vilambit tempo. His laya was rock-steady even at this slow speed and his accompanists didn’t fail to follow his steps.
Over the past few years, Saketharaman has been carefully choosing his concert repertoire to make it aesthetically diverse and more flavoursome. Ragas with a lot of complexity and emotional appeal have been an unmissable feature of his concerts. For instance, last Margazhi, his full-fledged renditions of Subhapantuvarali and Desh were remarkable. This year, it is his Madhuvanthi that will be long remembered.