Thursday, November 11, 2010

Nirmala Rajasekar on The South Indian Veena: "Into the Raga"

I have been a great admirer of Indian music since the days when Ravi Shankar nearly became a rock star after Beatle George began studying with him. It was a little later that I started becoming familiar with the Carnatic (South Indian) classical tradition. That way of making music is the older of the two traditions (the north generally embracing the Hindustani style, in which Ravi Shankar is an important exponent).

Generally speaking the Carnatic tradition relies a bit more on compositional elements that form around a traditional raga. Where the sitar is the more popular plucked stringed instrument in the north, the south has the veena.

At this point we introduce today's CD, a Carnatic performance by veena exponent Nirmala Rajesekar, accompanied by violinist Raghavendra Rao and a two-man drum team of Tanjore K. Murugaboopathi on the mridangam (a two-headed drum played in similar ways to the North Indian tabla), and V. Suresh on Ghatam, a clay jar struck on its side with metal finger attachments and also sometimes manipulated at the opening with the hand, creating the bass sound.

Ms. Rajasekar performs a mini-concert on the disk at hand, Into the Raga (Innova 230). There are a number of compositions performed based on various ragas. And there is the section where the two drummers engage in a solo dialog, always an exciting part of the Carnatic presentation.

Ms. Rajasekar plays the veena with sensitivity and finesse, and with the violinist goes through the compositional passages with great command of the style. It is not so much the speed of the phrases, though some are finger twistingly difficult, as it is the proper idiomatic phrasing, especially in terms of attention to micro-bends and shading. She most certainly has much in the way of mastery.

The twin drum team is impeccable. South Indian drummers are some of the most advanced rhythmic virtuosi known in the world, and these two are excellent examples. The drum solo that occurs towards the end of the CD is breathtaking in its spiritedly flawless execution of extraordinarily complicated rhythmic phrases.

Whether you already are a connoisseur of the Carnatic tradition or you are a novice, this is a beautifully performed and beautifully recorded program that will give you much to appreciate and enjoy. Click on the Innova link on this site to find out more.

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