Training and talent blend in Vasudha Ravi’s performances

Vasudha Ravi begins the second part of her concert tour Nadabrahmam With an alapana that sounded casual due to its debut on a high register. Soon, the crowd of brigands subsided, and the vocals descended to the carpet of velvety glades. Mohak Shanti begins a sonorous exploration of Gamakkriya, announcing his choice of the main raga in Nadabrahmam. Some passages, though brief, bore a certain Hindustani flair – Vasudha is adept at abhangas and bhajans anyway. The 11-minute rehearsal brought out the melody well, the spirit of which was captured by violinist Usha Rajagopalan in her solo reply. Her bows were especially sweet with the baselines, where Vasudha was, earlier, a bit inaudible.

The work ‘Ekmaranatham Bhajeham’ brought to the fore Arjun Ganesh’s suitability as a mridangam accompanist. Muthuswamy Dikshitar’s typical charanam moves smartly towards the end in fast-paced songs, even as the singer reiterates her adherence to ML Vasanthakumari’s style. Vasudha’s shape has a sticky quality, adorned with oscillations. It is a hallmark of MLV, whose direct disciple Gowri Kuppuswamy taught the young singer’s mentor Manjula Sriram.

The niraval (around ‘Omkara roopam shivam’) proceeded classically from an unheard-of threshold, while the notes in the later swaraprastha were also played with added force, typical of MLV (1928–90). Vasudha’s sudden upward ‘mother’ was admirable, sweet voice intact. Icing the main package at 52 minutes in the two-hour presentation, Aadi Taala Thani Avtaram took a proportionate share of the time.

Hindolam was the sub-main suite, with ‘Samaganalolen’ as the masterpiece (by GN Balasubramaniam, mentor of MLV). Alpana resorts to a restrained delivery of the upper parts, an emotional appeal in a pentatonic melody. Usha, in her turn, took inspiration from the singer’s moves. Both composers emphasized clarity in gamakas even in the midst of loud singing.

An opposite Bilhari followed. All the rollercoaster rides in Tyagaraja’s ‘Narasimha Nannu Brava’ were well profiled, rarely circus-like. It was cleverly juxtaposed with the later Ahiri raga, whose sinuous contours unfolded in graceful slowness. Vasudha makes good use of those ups and downs in ‘Mayamma’ (Syama Shastri) to showcase her command over rhythm. He gave it a tinge of theatricality by introducing Anupallavi, ‘Nyayama Meenakshamma’.

The filling next to the main was ‘Thillai Chidambarame’ by Marimutha Pillai (Kapi Narayani) which is usually kept as tukkada. The section after Thani avartanam was confined to just one Vakulabharanam number (‘Thedi Thavikkuthadi’), one of its notes clearly recalling the devotional raga’s ancestral hold on Vasanthabhairavi.

To wind back, the concert began with a four gati varnam in Sri raga. Karur Devudu Iyer’s ‘Sami Ninan Kori’ sets a soothing tone emphasizing the smiling face of the singer. The second item, ahead of the sub-chief Hindolam, was Muthu Thandavar’s ‘Adikondaar end’ (Mayamalavagovala). Its vocal sequences stabilized the edginess of the eight-song court.