Yoga, self-help and mindfulness. As the strife for self-possession has entered the mainstream in the West, so have non-religious systems been sought as conceptual frameworks. Jiddu Krishnamurti's teachings provide one such system, and the Indian philosopher's ideas on the pursuit of the self have touched figures including Aldous Huxely, Peter Brook and Igor Stravinsky. This was a peculiar offering at the Cadogan Hall from the Krishnamurti Centre in Brockwood Park, combining in a single event an art auction, traditional Indian dance and music-making of the highest calibre in what might have been defined as anything from a fundraiser to a homily to a cult-gathering depending on what you were looking for. Whilst not all involved experienced true enlightenment, sublime playing from Maria João Pires and Nigel North provided havens for contemplative retreat.

Maria João Pires © Felix Broede | DG
Maria João Pires
© Felix Broede | DG

To celebrate a popular thinker's influence across the breadth of the arts in a single concert is clearly no small ambition. This programme sagged under the weight of its disparate components, but the individual works shone brilliantly, with Aditi Mangaldas' Kathak dances providing just one fizzy addition. Mangaldas released shivers of energy with bell-clad ankles to a foot-tapping recorded accompaniment, building the heat through dizzying spins like in a whirling dervish. Two dances, one traditional and one modern, provided a kick at the start of both halves of the show, which was welcome after the prolonged introductions of presenter Ian Skelly. Best known to classical audiences for his work on BBC Radio 3, Skelly shed more light on his teenage philosophical musings than on Krishnamurti himself. The appearance of his spectral visage midway through Pires' rendition of Beethoven's Piano Concerto no. 32 in C minor was both galling and unnerving.

Yet little could douse our enjoyment of Pires' ardent musicality. Her muscular, jagged octave jumps at the opening of the work might have been surprising for a player of such gamine build. But it was the selflessness in her playing that made this performance grip. Shed of any trace of ego, Pires' study of Buddhism felt especially pertinent here, and the limitless invention of Beethoven's final sonata seemed to shine directly from the score. The ferocious passage work of the Maestoso - Allegro con brio ed appassionato was shaded with introspection, and the opening chords of the second movement Arietta were gorgeously weighted. From there the energy spun out seamlessly, through dotted rhythms, bass rumblings, crystalline trills and a boundless boogie woogie which saw Pires jolting in her seat.

Nigel North © Hanya Chlala
Nigel North
© Hanya Chlala
Such ecstatic playing had been preceded by a salve of a rendition of Bach's Lute Suite in G minor from Nigel North. North has transcribed a number of Bach's works for plucked instruments, though Bach did the job with this one, forging the G minor suite from an earlier work for cello. North claims that this is one of the more natural of the suites to play, and invested his playing with a broad expressive palette. The Präludium – Presto was laced with doleful pangs, and there was eeriness in the unravelling broken chords of the brisé Sarabande - music that foreshadows the devastatingly poignant Et incarnatus est from Bach's Mass in B minor. Most disarming of all was the sunny Italianate disposition North brought to the rippling first Gavotte. Amidst the commotion, Pires and North offered a sliver of musical reflection.

***11