Sundaram Balachander

The Virtuoso of the Veena [Music of South India]

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Balachander is one of the larger names in the history of semi-contemporary South Indian classical music, originally playing on a North Indian sitar no less. Here he plays "Ragam Chakravaakam" in a more or less improvised manner (though all Indian classical is more or less improvised, on this recording the ragam itself hadn't been set until Balachander started plucking the veena). What one will notice when listening to the album is first the alap, in which Balachander brings new levels to the techniques of stretching a note from the instrument and wrenching each nuance of the string from a single note. Once the rhythmic accompaniment is added in the ragam proper, another round of the virtuosity of the instrument is showcased, along with a mridangam (a likely predecessor to the North Indian tabla) and a gatam (an earthenware pot drum). While the ornamentation may be somewhat less than a South Indian violin concert, that may be at least in part due to the instruments themselves. The veena is a somewhat drier sounding instrument, plucked much like the sitar, but generally somewhat slower and more formalized. Balachander is in fact a virtuoso of the instrument, though more exciting players are out there on recordings, such as perhaps Zia Moiuddin Dager on the rudra vina. Pick up the album if you're a fan of the South Indian concert style, though if it's excitement in the music that you're looking for, look up either Zia Moiuddin Dagar or maybe even go north to some of Ravi Shankar's recordings. Another possibility would be the South Indian violin of L Subramaniam.

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