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Dan Morgan
MusicWeb International, July 2012

Charles Koechlin was a fascinating character, whose interest in astronomy, mythology and foreign travel suggest a mind hungry for the esoteric and exotic. Regarded as his masterpiece, Les heures persanes (The Persian Hours) is a good example of his interest in the latter. It’s based on the French novelist and traveller Pierre Loti’s Vers Ispahan, detailing his journey across Persia. Koechlin’s hour-long work is a series of pieces—condensed into just two-and-a-half days—that captures and distils the scents and sounds of this faraway land.

For those unfamiliar with this music it’s very much of its time and artistic milieu, with traces of Debussy and Ravel, not to mention Fauré. The opening siesta is a good indication of Koechlin’s manner; it’s both direct and sensuous, a balance well struck in van Raat’s reading of this epic score. The swaying rhythms of the evening caravan are superbly articulated and van Raat finds a delicate shimmer in the notes. The warm, natural recording is a real pleasure too. Each and every detail of this finely calibrated performance is well caught.

I particularly like the way the end of each movement is allowed to evaporate, rather like a mirage. The listener is given plenty of time to relish and reflect on what’s just passed. The first full day is a kaleidoscope of shifting colours. The dark sonorities of the piano’s lower registers are beautifully complemented by a pellucid treble that doesn’t grate or glare. Van Raat is never less than commanding, and his ear for textures and the almost imperceptible shifts of harmony—in ‘Chant du soir’ and the moonlit terrace for instance—is very impressive indeed.

The second full day (trs. 9-13) has some of Koechlin’s most attractive music, from that affectionate aubade through to the glowing hills at sunset. In between, the midday sun beats down on still-perfumed roses (tr. 10) and our weary traveller retreats to the play and plash of a marbled fountain (tr. 11). There’s a pleasing economy of style here. Those elusive scents and cooling waters are most beautifully evoked—perhaps etched is the better word. The descent into silence is very well scaled. Paradoxically this music seems both flamboyant and subtle, and it’s a mark of van Raat’s skill that this delicate balance is maintained throughout.

The last three movements are an exotic summation. Tr. 14 blends Ravelian edge and glitter with Debussian mist and reticence. It’s another of those sleights of hand that Koechlin does so well; and it’s not the last either. The cemetery at night manages to be musically more rigorous yet retains its open-ended, evocative character. Van Raat has an almost Usher-like sensitivity to the tiniest sounds, so he’s very fortunate to have such a detailed and immersive recording. Indeed, the piano’s gentle tolling at the very end of the piece has astonishing presence and weight.

As much as I’ve enjoyed van Raat’s previous discs this one is really rather special. His judgment is impeccable and the playing is free of artifice or exaggeration. That, coupled with top-notch sound, makes this a mandatory purchase for all pianophiles.

Richly rewarding; an ideal gateway to Koechlin’s fascinating soundscapes. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review



Lynn René Bayley
Fanfare, July 2012

Neither composer Charles Koechlin nor his masterpiece, translated as The Persian Hours, is nearly as well known or popular as Granados’s Goyescas or Albéniz’s Iberia, let alone the music of Debussy, so they have fallen into the category of musical oddities.

Enter pianist Ralph van Raat to the rescue. His recording of the suite, albeit slow-moving…has such tremendous atmosphere and a sense of presence that one is seduced into Koechlin’s world and his own interpretation within the first three minutes of the recording.

Raat’s performance, as already mentioned, is both musical and fascinating in the extreme. If you love this kind of music, this is a CD you simply cannot live without. © 2012 Fanfare Read complete review



Don O’Connor
American Record Guide, May 2012

The textures are rich…with resonant chordal agglomerations and some decorative lines apparently meant to reflect the ornamentation of Islamic architecture. Much of it is highly approachable almost in a popular vein. Once you lock onto its wavelength, it’s hypnotically beautiful. I’ve rarely heard so effective a merging of 20th Century textures with traditional ones.

Van Raat plays the music as though it were already standard repertoire, thus needed no didactic punching up. His approach also informs the work’s segments with an overall unity that’s entirely convincing. His intelligent notes are lagniappe. © 2012 American Record Guide Read complete review on American Record Guide online



Calum MacDonald
BBC Music Magazine, March 2012

Performance
Recording

Koechlin has a highly individual style of piano writing that asks a lot of any pianist: terraced sonorities, widely spread chords, proto-Messiaenic harmonies, contrasted plains of colour, and a general sense of that stillness you find in hot, empty vistas.

It’s good to have a bargain-price version from Naxos, and Ralph van Raat is a thoughtful interpreter. …This music is partly about the suspension of time, yet van Raat’s tempos are generally on the brisk side…when Koechlin creates a palpable sense of rhythm he is excellent, as in the dynamic build-up of ‘Le caravane’, and in the rare fast movements such as the riotous ‘A travers les rues’ and the concluding ‘Derviches dans la nuit’. © 2012 BBC Music Magazine




Jeff Simon
The Buffalo News, February 2012

Inspired by a diary kept by Pierre Loti during a trip through Persia, these “Persian Nights” not only prefigure Messiaen, just as Mompou does, but they prefigure Rautavaara, Part and Gorecki, in a way, too. Koechlin’s approach to the piano was orchestral and brilliant and busy orchestrator that he was, he orchestrated this in 1921. The continual rediscovery of Koechlin is among the ongoing musical news of our time. Performances here by Van Raat are superb. © 2012 The Buffalo News Read complete review



Craig Zeichner
Ariama.com, February 2012

Van Raat’s performance is stunning. Successfully telling a dreamy tale over the course of sixteen mostly slow movements is no small feat, but Van Raat conquers with slight gestures and splashes of color. His delicate shading and almost wispy touch is ideal for the reverie that much of the music induces. But Koechlin also can up the ante and van Raat makes hard-driving passages like Derviches dans la nuit (Dervishes in the night) with its thick bass and piercing runs, breathlessly thrilling.

What’s next for van Raat? I can’t wait to hear. © 2012 Ariama.com Read complete review



Grego Applegate Edwards
Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review, February 2012

The 16 pieces have a modern bite to them, a more complex and pan-tonal harmonic-melodicism than the impressionists, and a broader dynamic from very soft to fire-drill ultra fortissimo.

Pianist Ralph van Raat has recorded the cycle, which is great because it is available on Naxos (8.572473) at their budget price.

Van Raat gives us a sensitive yet turbulent reading, lingering over the hushed mysteries and driving with passion in the edgier sections.

This is first-rate Koechlin and it is first-rate Ralph van Raat. © 2012 Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review Read complete review




Gary Lemco
Audiophile Audition, February 2012

The Persian Hours derives from a book, Vers Ispahan, a diary by voluptuary Pierre Loti, recounting a long journey through Persia. The individual pieces capture different times of the day, embracing two and a half days total. A Siesta before departure opens the suite, in which he dreams of a traveling caravan, music touched perhaps by Borodin. L’escalade obscure (The dark ascent) concludes the opening half-day.

Broken-tone passages illuminate a hazy world of flesh and fantasy, a mix of Debussy and Bartok, Satie and Stravinsky. Magic and gamelan tones weave a luxurious tapestry of sound, soft bells and gongs, chimes and occult tambourines. The music can be percussive, but the patina Raat projects on his sonorous Steinway…never becomes harsh or ugly. © 2012 Audiophile Audition Read complete review



David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2012

Charles Koechlin has always fascinated the musical world, but somehow his vast output of works has never found a place in the concert repertoire. Maybe his fascination with astronomy, mythology and orientalisam was to place him apart from the mainstream composers, though his student days were musically in the safe hands of Massenet and Faure. He became a rebel who broke away from organised musical form, a move frowned upon by the music establishment. That he wrote several works that were, by any standards, masterpieces, was compromised by the sheer volume of scores he produced. Yet the orchestral work, Le livre de la jungle, and the extended piano score, Les heures persanes, live on as testimony to his fascination with tone colours. It is a work he described as ‘un voyage imaginaire’, it’s sixteen sections taking us on a journey through some imagined exotic oriental land. Composed between 1916 and 1919 it is in a rich harmonic language that knows no boundary, but offers a fascinating kaleidoscope of sounds. To achieve all of these effects calls for a high degree of technical accomplishment from the performer, though it is the pacing of the score and the ability to turn slow moving music into sensual pictures—with such titles as Clair de lune sur les terrasses (Moonlight on the terraces)—that can prove illusive. Having reviewed previous recordings from the Dutch pianist, Ralph van Raat, I have longed to hear this gifted young man in such a score, and I am not disappointed. He revels in the subtlety of the score, the most minute differences of dynamic markings creating everything that Koechlin could have envisaged. I hope this is the beginning of a series of French music recordings from van Raat. The sound is all you can wish.






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