To hold an audience spellbound for a little under 4 hours is not an ordinary accomplishment for a Veena artist. It requires a commendable mastery over the instrument and an ability to present the music in a manner that would appeal to the elite, the initiated and uninitiated alike. Dr. Srikanth Chary did just that last Saturday (12/07/1996), in the auditorium of Monta Vista High School in Cupertino. The concert was arranged to release a CD recording of Srikanth Chary, captioned "Janani" and dedicated to his mother Lakshmi Gopalaswami, who in his own words, had been the "guiding force behind my music and my life". Having listened to his music I cannot restrain myself from observing that a mother who could mould her son into a scientist as well as an artist of calibre with an enviable ability to bring the sublime art of Carnatic music in its pristine form into this alien land, nurture it and propagate it with such devotion, is certainly an extraordinary mother, who has done a great service to the art of Carnatic music itself and is worthy of salutations of the rasikas as well.
Turning to the concert, Srikanth Chary prefaced it with an explanation that most of the songs he had selected to play would be on Goddesses of learning, wealth and power. Aptly enough he began with a gem of a Varnam in Devagandhari, paying obeisance to Goddess Saraswathi, composed by Lalgudi Jayaraman. Clarity, melody and precision in rhythm in his playing were so remarkable that I put behind fears of my jetlag lulling me into sleep and I sat up in anticipation of a sumptuous fare for the ears.
"Vallaba Nayakasya" in Begada, "Sri Rama Saraswathi" in Nasikabhushani, both of Muthuswamy Dikshitar and "Janani Ninuvina" in Ritigowlai an excellent creation of Subbaraya Sastri were presented with solemnity.
Then followed a well delineated Jaganmohini and a lively "ShivaKama Sundari" notable for its Adeeta begining in Rupaka talam. If serenity was the characteristic in the preceding pieces, verve and gusto marked the presentation of this song. Srikanth Chary gave evidence of aesthetic sense of a high order in playing the fast paced pieces, by keeping out ostentatious gimmickery, all through the concert. That is a great virtue that distinguishes him from many of the upcoming artists - instrumentalists or vocalists.
Infusing a good degree of liveliness in the concert with the Jaganmohini piece he proceeded to a sedate and touching portrayal of Sri Ranjani. The build up was graceful and methodical. The song chosen for this ragam, Papanasam Sivam's composition "Maatha yennum vaatha", was played with captivating melody. Here again Chary's swaraprasthara, was replete with rhythmic designs but never pushed melody to the background.
The piece de resistance, Ragam Tanam Pallavi in Shanmukhapriya followed Thyagaraja's sweet "Melukovayya" in Bhowli. Chary did well to explain at length the text of the pallavi composed by Dr. Saraswathi Mohan in Sanskrit in praise of the Mother of the universe - the giver of life, nourisher, giver of knowledge and protector. The lyrical pallavi was set to Sankeerna jathi triputa talam of 13 beats, i.e. with 9 beats in laghu and 4 in dhrutham. The development of the ragam was commendably imaginative and kept the audience keenly listening with the query "what next" after every phrase. Chary displayed not only his virtuosity but also his grip over laya in the pallavi. In keeping with his professed dedication of the concert to the Mother, his tanam was played as a ragamalika including Durga, Saraswathi and Sri ragams. The swaraprasthara included Bilahari, Surya, Hamsanandi, Valaj and Suddha Sarang, was scintillating and was crowned with a kaleidoscopic rounding up in the reverse order.
Chary gave ample evidence of his class in every item he presented in the concert. What makes his concert a delectable one is his keen adherence to high values in the presentation of raga krithi or swara prasthanam. Bhavam is inseparably associated with his playing.
Poovalur Srinivasan elevated the quality of the concert by his soft and sweet playing with remarkable anticipation and finesse. His thani at the conclusion of the Sri Ranjani piece, his reproduction of the pallavi on Mridangam and his close following of the thillana deserve special mention here.
I returned home with a supreme satisfaction of having listened to the Music of a consummate artist.