First of all, I dont believe in buying an audio CD for more than 8$. Given that it's a desi music (IR's sound quality - not musical quality - was never superior to that of ARR), and with just 6 tracks, the max worth of 'Thiruvasagam In Symphony' (TIS) CD would be 6$ ($1 per piece if I've to put this on iTunes domain). Thankfully, bad karmas aside, I was able to download the mp3s of TIS off the net. Well, I'm one of those guys who support technology innovations, though I would'nt mind paying for the mp3s if worth it.
I am not very good at Tamil, and hardly have i read any tamil works too. I could never understand Narumugaiye (Iruvar) or the Kandrum Unnathu (En Swasa Kaatrae) song and had to take the help of tamil-scholarly friends. But after having listened to this album, I so wish I had known the language to enjoy the depth of its creativity. However,music can still be relished sans lyrics, which is why we still listento songs in various languages. So with no prep-work, I increased the head-phones volume.
The orchestration resembles that of Guru, Siraichalai, Avathaaram. Devoid of lyrics and voices, these could be masterpiece BGMs for a whole lot of forthcoming Tamil flicks. Speaking for myself, I fall under the category of those who wud love to hear "Maasaru Ponne" (from Devar Magan) forms of music, and esp when they are sung in the voices of vintage Janaki, Yesudas (age has nowcaught up on them) and SPB. But this could simply be a mindset thing, as there are no 101s to say Thiruvasagam is best suited to a given format. To me, IR's voice is best suited for pathos, eulogising a made-for solitary hero in a soul-searcing act, and so I wish these hymns were sung by better singers who are good at what they are.
1) Now is 'TIS' completely a western classical piece? Well, NOT Really, IMHO. It's an attempt to fall under the category of world music, but not on the innovative genre, but creatively new for most of the desi audience. In simple words, it's 80s IR melodies symphonized.
2) Is this format the first of it's kind in India - Yes / No. Yes, becoz ofthe use of Savite literature. No, coz a few #s in Bombay Dreams by ARR had a similar format.
Though it was a good-read to note the heaped-up praises on IR during the launch of TIS CDs, it's quite funny when peeple comment off TIS to be a fusion of Indian classical music in Symphonic form. One of my friends from Chennai had fused a classical Charukesi # 'Innum En Manam Ariyadha' (Thoodu Selvadharadi from Singarvelan) with Operas and Gregorian Chants and the final product was indeed fabulous. To me, those pieces were as good as the TIS collections. Disclaimer - the point here is that the utility-value of TIS is subjective and should have no correlations with the remarks made by who's-who at the TIS launch. So, relish the album for your own sake and not for the herd mentality.
Am a novice here - The IR stamp is seen in all the 6 compositions with his usual oft-used raags Mayamalava gowlai, Sarasaangi, Shanmukhapriya, Shankarabharanam, Purvi, Hindolam, Kalyani and Charukesi. But this form of music is not meant for raag-dissection. So no point dwelling further.
I've heard the Oratorio. Need to check-out the original Virutham format sung by Othuvars, and the Thiruvasagam translations in English.