Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Ramnad Krishnan: Vidwan, Music of South India, Songs of the Carnatic Tradition

This is another of the first "world music" recordings obtained by this blogger back in 1990 and it is a generous sampling of the Carnatic music of southern India.  This was a double album recorded in late 1967 in New York by Krishnan, a masterful singer with a compelling reedy voice and the ability to generate remarkable vocalisms of all kinds.

He is supported by a quartet of excellent musicians, including V. Thyagarajan on violin, whose virtuosic work throughout is a marvel; T. Ranganathan on the mridangam, a two-headed drum; V. Nagarajan, Thyagarajan's brother, who performs on the kanjira, or tambourine; and P. Srinivasan on the droning tampura (also spelled tamboura).

A major highlight is the "Palincu Kamaksi," which features Krishnan's incredible vocal gymnastics and some excellent playing by Thyagarajan, who holds the violin vertically while sitting cross-legged and holding the instrument between his chest and his foot.  This way of firmly holding the violin allows the player to employ a range of oscillating figures, slides and other colorations.

The centerpiece of this recording, though, is the multi-part "Tamarasadala Netri, Tyagarajuni Mitri," which for about forty minutes highlights the leader's vocal prowess, the great ability of the violinst, and the excellent percussion work by Ranganathan and Nagarajan, who are given spotlights in the "Tani Avartam" section that closes the piece and the album.

Krishnan, however, is the vidwan, translated on the album cover as "an authority on his music, a master of his art," and he definitely embodies this definition.  He and his compatriots were visiting artists at Connecticut's Wesleyan University and its World Music Program (this liberal arts college also has had many prominent jazz musicians as lecturers and performers over the years.)  Sadly, Krishnan died in early 1973 of a heart condition.

Played a great deal over twenty years ago when purchased on cassette, this fantastic record has been given several listens on disc and on the iPod since it was acquired recently.  It is truly one of the finest recordings of any kind this blogger has had the opportunity to hear and is well worth searching out whether there is an existing interest in Indian music or a curiosity to find out what Carnatic music is all about.

Ramnad Krishnan: Vidwan, Music of South India: Songs of the Carnatic Tradition (Nonesuch Explorer, 1968, 1988)

1.  Ninnadanela  4:08
2.  Palincu Kamaksi  15:31
3.  Abhimanamennadu  13:08
4.  Tamarasadala Netri, Tyagarajuni Mitri  38:13

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