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Neyveli R Santhana Gopalan's concert at the DBS auditorium on the 8th Jan 1999 turned out to be a mixed experience for the carnatic music lovers of Singapore. Santhana Gopalan chose the theme for the evening to present a sober serene and soothing music with an accent on bhava and classicism. He started the concert with the Abogi Varnam and followed it with Vatapi Ganapatim in Hamsadhwani. This raga gave him enough scope for improvising interesting swaraprasthara in a pace (carefully avoiding the brisk swara passages) that set the mood for the evening. Nada Tanumanisam, in raga Chittha Ranjani was rendered with devotion raising the expectation levels of the audience for the "Pradimadhyama raga" treat in Pantuvarali.

Santhana Gopalan's treatment of Sri Thyagaraja's Apa Rama Bakthi (in Roopaka Talam) was a commendable effort. Though the raga alapana failed to impress, Santhanagopalan warmed up to render the Kriti exceptionally well, displaying sound technique and good mano dharma in the Niraval phrases ( Lakshmi devi valachuna Lashmanundu koluchuna) and in the kalpana swarams. The final Korvais were simple and elegant and captivated the audience. This was followed by a brief sketch of raga Reethi Gowlai with Ambujam Krishna's popular composition - Guruvavurappane Appan. The mood he wanted to communicate was further emphasised with a short rendering of raga Yadukulakambhodhi and the enjoyably slow and deep rendering of Thyagaraja's Hechharika Garara in Kanda Chaapu talam.

The centre piece for the evening was an enchanting Thodi ( Papanasam Sivan's Karthikeya Kangeva in Adi talam). The alapana was pleasingly structured in three short phases. The rendering of Thodi reflected Santhana Gopalan's competence. He did justice to all the aspects of alapana, kriti, niraval (in the phrase Maal maruga shanmuga muruga guha) and Kalpana swaram singing.

Purandara Dasar's Krishna Nee Begane (Raga Yamen Kalvani in Misra Chappu Talam) and Dikshithar's Akhilandeswari (Raga : Dwijavanthi in Adi Talam) were rendered well, preserving the overall serene quality of the sahityas. The ragamaligai, Arabhimaanam is now widely accepted as Santhana Gopalan's speciality, but he failed to impress and even chose to omit (which was a definite slip on the singer's part) the enjoyable chitthaswara phrases in one of the charanams. Santhana Gopalan's voice did not co-operate with him very well in this concert and it was evident in some of the brigas (particularIv in the Melsthayi) he attempted in the Sindhubhiravi piece Manadirkku ugandadu. He concluded the recital with the Behag Thillana, a ragamalika virutham (Dharbari Kanada and Hamsanandhi) followed by Thirupugazh.

Vittal Ramamurthi on the violin impressed the audience blending well with the main artist. As Santhana Gopalan himself mentioned during the concert. he followed the main artist like a shadow and was appreciated by the knowledgeable crowd for his superb efforts in Panthuvarali and Thodi.

J.Vaidyanathan on the Mridangam revealed his thorough professionalism accompanying with a smooth and non-impacting technique to enhance the mood Santhana Gopalan wanted to create for the evening's concert. Vaidyanathan's Tani was perfect and was immensely enjoyable.

I have heard Santhana Gopalan's performance many times in the past. This concert, punctuated by outstanding and brilliant patches, could only be termed as an above average effort by a performer of Santhana Gopalan's calibre.

Review by -R.Ganesh