Review by Parvathy Hadley – Sri NSG Concert

On Saturday April 7, 2012 CMAI hosted Sri Neyveli Santhanagopalan for a vocal concert, accompanied by Smt. Charulatha Ramanujam on violin and Sri Ganapathy Raman on mridangam.

He made a very traditional opening with the well-known Ata Thala varnam ‘Viriboni’ in Bhairavi, adding some improvisations at the end; then Begada, and then Pantuvarali, introducing a Prati Madhyamam. Through these compositions the concert was low-energy, as it looked like Sri Santhanagopalan was suffering from recent travel or our strange weather, and had trouble with the upper range of his voice. The low notes sounded great.

Some of us old-timers have a problem – we cannot remember our car keys or cell ‘phone, but we can remember that 20 years ago at CMAI’s Tyagaraja festival Priya Ramachandran, a talented teenager, performed the same song “Appa Rama Bhakti entho” with a moving raga alapana, followed by ‘Manamuleda’ in Hamirkalyani and “Sadamatim’ in Gambheera Natta. Her rendition of “Kapi Varidhi Datuna?” was sloshing around in my head as I listened to Sri Neyveli, despite his scholarly improvisation, and I was feeling partial to Priya.

He sang a Swati Tirunal composition in Hindolam, and then on to Kedaragowla, “Saraguna Palimpa” by Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar. And all of a sudden it was like the artist’s passion was awake, rising above any sore throat. This is a song I learned 50 years ago, but it was as if at this performance I was learning so much more about it. His improvisations on the charanam “Satadhruti poojitha” were an unforgettable treasure.

If you compare South Indian music to Hindustani or western classical, what sets us apart is that our music has Sahitya that is precious; we want our musicians to be scholarly and challenge our brains. Yes, we want a nice hall, comfortable seats, good sound quality – but over and above, we want the artist, singing the same Tyagaraja or Dikshitar or Srinivasa songs, hit us with a new meaning, a new interpretation, and show us a side we had not thought possible. This Neyveli accomplished – thereafter he was on a roll, engaging the audience in a fun partnership.

After the mridangam solo, he went on to Abhogi, “Sabha patikku “. It was interesting that he chose Kapi for raga variations.

This was followed by a Dikshitar composition “Parimala Ranganatham” which contains some gems of the composer’s Sanskrit word games. The pallavi contains “Bhajeham Viranutam” , which has the raga name “Hamvir” embedded in it. The second movement (some call it Samashti charanam ; Dikshitar scholars claim it is just Anupallavi ; take your pick) contains the word play
“Parameshwaram Rameswaram Meshwaram Ishwaram”.

He sang Surutti to accommodate a rather odd request; odd because he had sung the central piece in Kedaragowla, which has the same notes as Surutti with a different emphasis on Ni. This was followed by a tillana.

Smt. Charulatha showed herself to be a competent violinist, but at times I wished she would take a more aggressive role in filling gaps. Sri Neyveli’s daughter, known to be a good singer, could not come. Let us hope this can be remedied in the near future.

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