- Les Heures Persanes, 16 pieces for piano, Op. 65
Charles Koechlin may not be a well-known composer, but anyone who enjoys the music of Olivier Messiaen should get to know Koechlin. "Les heures persanes," one of his better known works, is a suite of character pieces written between 1916 and 1919. Throughout the pieces are hints of what Messiaen would write later in his piano works, such as the "Visions de l'Amen" and the "Vingt Régards sur l'Enfant-Jésus." "Les heures" depicts scenes of Persia -- although more landscapes than life studies -- with titles similar to those of Debussy's preludes, (e.g., "Clair de lune sur les terrasses" and "Les collines au choucher du soleil"). The harmonies are more advanced than Debussy, and in places, for example in No. 4 "Matin frais, dans la haute vallée," sound exactly like Messiaen. Nos. 14 and 16 have a brilliant intensity similar to Messiaen. No. 6, "A travers les rues" is more backward looking with lush, flowing lines evocative of Fauré's (one of Koechlin's teachers) writing, but with freer harmonies. Here, van Raat allows it to breathe almost like a jazz improvisation. Van Raat treats all the music very organically, adding nuanced color without it seeming at all like work. It streams very easily through his fingers, letting the slower movements become meditative to an extent, again creating a link to Messiaen, specifically his spirituality. Van Raat naturally tempers the music; the more active sections are never painfully intense, nor do the slower ones tend to inertia. This performance of "Les heures" would definitely suit as an introduction to Koechlin or as a bridge between Debussy or Fauré and Messiaen for anyone looking to expand the scenery of their musical countryside.