Pandit Kaivalyakumar/Jayanthi Kumaresh

Kaivalyakumar res
Pandit Kaivalyakumar. Photo supplied.

City Recital Hall, August 3

It is a sound that will live in the memory: Pandit Kaivalyakumar’s voice splitting the air with a force like nuclear fission. Without being overly loud its power was further magnified by the City Recital Hall’s resonant acoustics when he chose to fully unleash it.

Kaivalyakumar is, stylistically and by genealogy, a leading torch-bearer for the Kirana Gharana strain of classical Hindustani singing, which is notably ornate. He began with a night raga, Maru Bihag, the slow, languorous tempo of which made it dream-like, and somehow equally holy and decadent in mood. Immediately his extraordinary precision of intonation was evident, alongside equally impressive range and breath-control, striking expressiveness and the aforementioned power, which he initially held in reserve for quite some time. Meanwhile his phenomenally rapid oscillating between notes sometimes created the illusion of more than one voice.

His second raga was more playful Ghara Dadra and he concluded with Bhairavi, initially at a very slow tempo over which he draped long notes that were as melancholy as shrouds. When he sang out his voice carried a singular urgency like a cry for help, and when the tempo increased his improvising brimmed with elaborate ornamentation. Kaivalyakumar was ably accompanied by Shubh Maharaj (tabla) and Rohit Marathe (harmonium).

The concert was opened by a major star of Carnatic music: Jayanthi Kumaresh, a virtuoso on the veena, a plucked string instrument with a much rounder sound than a sitar or sarod, closer to a guitar’s timbre. She achieved her most magical effects when sliding between notes without plucking, the volume very slowly decreasing until she was playing with the merest phantoms of notes.

After opening with Raga Hamsadhvani, her main piece was Dharmavathi, the effect of which was simultaneously celestial and deeply human, with many notes bent into cries. She enjoyed dialogues with her two percussionists Arjunan Kumar (mridangam) and Krishnaswamy Sankaararaman (ghatam), achieving a certain level of fire and energy that was still bridled by restraint.