A Quartet in Sublime

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Into The Raga (Innova), www.amazon.com, available as single mp3 downloads ($0.99), mp3 albums ($8.99), and CD ($14.99)

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Like most Karnatik music that’s not live, Nirmala Rajasekar’s Into The Raga is best heard in the solitude of your headset. The sensory perception is like touching rich silk, the tone is meditative, and the veena-violin-mridangam-ghatam ensemble produces an unadulterated, wholesome sound.

Starting with the note of longing in Saveri—Kothavaasal Venkatrama Iyer’s Sarasuda—was intelligent. We are at once transported to a state of anticipation with Rajasekar’s passionate veena-playing. In Purandara Dasa’s “Jaya Jaya,” Rajasekar and Raghavendra Rao’s violin sketch out the Nattai raga, while continuously raising the bar on the melodic forays in tandem.

The beauty in Karnatik presentations is often lost in the technical wizardry emphasized. Rajasekar rises above and puts a soul to her playing. Her choice of ragas is an indication that she is on the path of original interpretations. While she chose to play some favorites such as “Manasa Sancharare,” most others are not every-day ragas. Shyama Sastry’s “Tharunam Idamma” is in Gowlibanthu; Thyagaraja’s “Nirvathi Sukhada” is in Ravichandrika. For the latter, Rajasekar sets an athletic pace—a playful interspersing of high and low notes. The mridangam and ghatam too are in effervescent unity here.

The Ravichandrika composition is a perfect precursor to the star of the CD—the 26 minute presentation of “Ananda Nadamaduvar” in Purvi Kalyani. This number unfolds the musical vista that Rajasekar is capable of.

One can hear her gliding over the strings; it feels like a live recital. She takes her time with the aalaapanai, building up the mood to witness the instrumental heralding of Lord Nataraja dancing. Her experience as a vocalist holds her in good stead in this piece as her veena takes us Into the Raga. Then she shares and eventually surrenders the mike to Tanjore K. Murugaboopathi on the mridangam and V. Suresh on the ghatam who out-do each other, keeping in beat with the omnipresent dancing spirit. Raghavendra Rao deserves special mention; as the other string musician, he whole-heartedly supports Rajasekhar in bringing out her best while excelling on his own merit.

The only thing amiss is the title of the CD—it doesn’t correctly portray the contents; nor does it do justice to the musical presentation. Into the Ragamakes one expect long explorations of a couple of ragas, which the CD is not. And the mastery with which these four artists have submitted to the compositions is underserved by the mention of just the raga. “A Quartet In Sublime” would have been a more appropriate name.

Priya Das is an avid follower of world music. She has had training in Indian classical music and continues being a student in spirit.

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