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Elegance and style

M S Old Gems
Rs 45

If you've wondered how M S Subbulakshmi sounded 50 years ago, you now have a way of finding out. You can hear a very early M S on this tape.

M S of those days had a strong voice; this has matured now into something more refined and perhaps less intense. On this album, you can hear her singing the Tamil compositions of Kalki and Ramaswamy Sivan and the Telugu compositions of Bhadrachala Ramadas. The recordings date back to 1942-43. M S's brief film connection is also represented.

A couple of compositions are rendered in traditional concert style, with a violin and mrudangam accompaniment. Some others like Maa Dayai in Vasantha has an orchestral arrangement after the fashion of old black and white movies -- trumpets, a clarionet and violins. Through it all her performance is stylish.

Thavamum palithathamma by Kalki from 1947 sounds like a film song or a studio recording (these details are not clearly indicated). The lyrics sing of India's independence, the result of thavam or penance. Deiva Tamizh by Kalki also falls in this category.

Musically, the emphasis is on condensing the best of a raga in each song; also, there are brief swara prastharas in some. The tempo ranges from medium to fast. There are no slow explorations of ragas. Yet there is dignity in each rendering. The birkas in Saraguna palimpa in Kedaragowla (Ramnad Srinivasa Iyengar) are chiselled and clear.

The recording is excellent and it is hard to believe some of these songs are more than 50 years old.

Side B has recordings from the 1960s. Some film glamour was evident on Side A, but it always combined with patriotic fervour. Side B has neither the exuberance of youth nor the stamp of maturity. It is lifeless and the great artiste seems to be absent. Her tone is not steady in the Sankaracharya sloka Karacharana kritam. Sambho Mahadeva (Ramaswamy Sivan) too is disappointing.

The inlay card says the latter composition is set in adi tala, whereas it is actually in rupaka.

The songs on Side B wobble and the recordings sound poor, although they were done much later than those on Side A. The inlay card in sepia is classy.

S Suchitra Lata

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