By PNV Ram
The first time I heard Ramakrishnan Murthy was at Savita Narasimhan’s home a few years ago. His mentor, she swore by his talent and dedication to his art. “He’s a lad from Irvine, California and sings like an angel,” she had said by way of an introduction. My wife and I listened to this slim, pleasant looking young man sing for a little over an hour, obviously handicapped by a sore throat and temperature. We were impressed by his nuanced pathantara, with several indications that he was influenced by the late KVN and Ramnad Krishnan. I now know that Padma Kutty was an early guru, followed by Delhi Sundararajan.
That first impression was certainly favourable and so were Murthy’s (or Ram’s, going by the way friends address him) pleasant demeanour and quiet confidence. The one question mark was his relative lack of akaaram. Was that a case of imitating his vocal heroes in their later years?
For one reason or another, I kept missing Ram’s concerts in the years after that first listening experience—until last week’s afternoon cutcheri at the Music Academy. It was easily the best of the performances I had attended among the junior vidwans and vidushis this Season. His expansive treatment of Kambhoji (Evari maata, Tyagaraja), the major raga of the afternoon, was fit to be compared with the best renditions of the season. With its fearless exploration of the octaves in manodharma, and razor-sharp sruti suddham, it was a tour de force worthy of a champion singer of the past or present.
Ramakrishnan Murthy continued his delightful forays into the nooks and corners of ragas in all the subsequent pieces of the concert, especially in the raga Devagandhari, that delicious amalgam of musicality and surrender. He enjoyed excellent support from Rajeev on the violin and Harinarayanan on the mridangam.
And yes, Ramakrishnan seems to have come a long way in his progress in akaaram-oriented singing, especially while rendering kritis. In raga alapana, however, he still needs to convert his half-hearted “ays” into full blown “aahs.” Once he does that, his music will acquire an altogether more commanding dimension. Of course, the small detail of his head remaining firmly attached to his shoulders will go a long way in keeping him on a steady path of ascent.