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Gems from a Master

Madurai Mani Iyer
Mridangam: Vellore Ramabhadran
Violin: Lalgudi G. Jayaraman.
Rs. 45

This Madurai Mani Iyer recording is a 1997 re-issue and shows the existence of a healthy demand for the old master. The earlier issue was in 1985.

Madurai Mani Iyer, a child prodigy, performed first when he was 12. His stylishly slurred rendering of kritis, his singing of the alapana with unorthodox syllables instead of the conventional ta-da-ri-na, and his fast pace made him very popular. He was acclaimed as a genius with the swara prastaras.

The tape begins with Tatvamariya in Reetigowla composed by Papanasam Sivan, which is followed by Nijamarmamulanu in Umabharanam, composed by Thyagaraja.

Both are fast paced and have swift, brief kalpana swara passages. This is followed by a sketchy alapana of Kamboji, taken up in the Thyagaraja composition Maa janaki. The kalpana swaras are easy flowing, characterised by lightly woven melodic and rhythmic constructions, which were his speciality. There is none of the overwrought mathematical convolutions which beset every Karnatak musician today.

Lalgudi Jayaraman is brilliant and sympathetic in his role as an accompanist. He was known to adapt with ease to any performer's style thus lending true support instead of playing at cross purposes. Vellore Ramabhadran is staid and uninspired. He plays repetitive nadais and his mrudangam sounds hollow.

Side B has Thyagaraja again -- Sarasasamadana in Kapinarayani, a minor composition sung to throw the earlier, more elaborate study of Kambhoji into relief. The next kriti Sarasamukhi in Gowda Malhar, a Muthaiah Bhagavathar composition, is also normally used only as a bridge between more serious delineations of major ragas. The last composition Eppo Varuvaro in Jaunpuri by Gopalkrishna Bharati was a favourite with Madurai Mani Iyer and his audience.

There are, sadly, very few studio recordings of Mani Iyer, but this cassette gives us a glimpse of his nonchalant artistry.

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