Olivier Messiaen's 1944 work for solo piano, Vingt regards sur l'enfant-Jesus ("Twenty Gazes at the Infant Jesus"), ranks among the 20th century's great artistic creations, rivaling the landmark variations of Bach and Brahms and Beethoven's last sonatas. But it's more than that--it's also a grand profession of faith. A devout Catholic, the young Messiaen was imprisoned by the Nazis during World War II, an experience that prompted him to compose the probingly spiritual Quartet for the End of Time; in occupied Paris during the final years of the war, he wrote a visionary trilogy about the redemptive power of faith, the culmination of which was Vingt regards. The work's 20 sections, held together by recurring themes, roughly chronicle Christ's life on earth, and are marked by an elastic sense of time that Messiaen picked up from gamelan music. Some sections are simply mesmerizing, and the conclusion, "Watch of the Church of Love," is an invitation to God's embrace that suggests the serenity of eternal peace. Vingt regards was given its premiere in Paris by Yvonne Loriod, Messiaen's disciple (and later his wife). Pierre-Laurent Aimard will perform it this Sunday at Symphony Center; Aimard studied with Loriod while still a teenager and launched his career by winning the Messiaen Competition in 1973. He's a specialist in contemporary piano music, and he's brought a prodigious command of technique and lucid intelligence to his collaborations with Pierre Boulez, Gyorgi Ligeti, and other icons of last half-century's avant-garde. With the two-hour-long Vingt regards, which Aimard has recorded for Teldec Classics, expect nothing less than transcendence. Sunday, January 19, 3 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000 or 800-223-7114.