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Koechlin & Part -

Ralph van Raat, Musical Pointers contemporary pianist of the year 2011

Charles Koechlin Les heures persanes

Ralph van Raat, piano

Naxos 8.572473

Composed during the First World War, Koechlin's major piano cycle Persian Hours Op 65 is a rediscovered masterpiece by a composer whose fecundity and proliferation of music in many genres has tended to count against him (c.f. Kaikhosru Sorabji's near-forgotten over one hundred works 1915-1984, many for piano solo, some of enormous dimensions).

Les heures persanes was inspired by Pierre Loti's jurneying through the former Iran, and is characterised by rich exoticism which draws upon his reciprocally-admired French contemporaries and looks forward to Messiaen etc, with a musical language which takes in impressionism, free atonality and quasi-twelve tone writing.

Its 16 named tracks encompass many atmospheric pictures and make for a hugely rewarding and easily enjoyable journey. Ralph van Raat, as always, provides an insightful essay - so far as space permits - and this is a worthy companion to his Pärt CD reviewed earlier this year.

When I first joined Music Web, I persuaded the CD review section to abandon compulsory star ratings, believing that those are invidious and can discourage skim-readers from studying those reviews which don't qualify for four or five...

Ralph van Raat, whom I met at the Amsterdam Gaudeamus Week in 2000 and registered as one to watch, has gone on to make a huge contribution to widening appreciation of 20th C piano music well off the beaten track.

Whilst he cannot displace my top 2011 rating of Tom Beghin's Recording of the Year for his innovatory The Virtual Haydn, I am well content to name Ralph van Raat as Musical Pointers' "20/21 C. music pianist of the year". Access our reviews of his others for Naxos - Adams, Lindbergh, Otte, Rzewski etc - via Google.

Van Raat's recordings are all well engineered and produced (isn't that an evocative cover photo above ?) and each is a labour of love; this is another disc to purchase and covet.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Arvo Pärt: 2 Sonatinas; Partita; LamenTate

Ralph van Raat, piano
Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic/Falletta

Naxos 8.572525

A valuable release, giving us a broad perspective to Pärt's changing musical language, supported by a lengthy article by musicologist/pianist Ralph van Raat, whose every disc for Naxos has been unique and uniquely valuable.

Arvo Pärt's music was serial in earlier times (earning disfavour of the Soviets), atonal in the '60s, and it became simple & minimalist after a period of "artistic silence" during the '70s, latterly simplistic with hypnotic, slow moving music that has gained worldwide acclaim; "Ralph van Raat has the ability to retain our interest when so little is happening. The Netherland’s orchestra does all that is required..." [David Denton].

The major work LamenTate (2003) was written for the gigantic Kapoor sculpture at Tate Modern [R, with miniscule figures underneath it indicating scale]. LamenTate is preoccupied with death, the moment "after one really discovers the truth...".

It might have been better to end the disc with the latest of the compositions, the tiny Für Anna Maria (2006) which celebrates life in "an almost unusually celebratory manner" [R van R].

This fine collection has made me better understand and re-value a composer of whom I have had serious reservations.

Peter Grahame Woolf

See the Guardian review of LamenTate as given at Tate Modern