Symphony No.8 (1968)
At 14 minutes, this is Sessions' most concentrated work (in two movements). It begins with the most curious sounding shakers, sounding like a rake through sand, with the foreboding strings. I think there is another work where Sessions used these 'shakers'.
Apparently it is his only total serialist work? It certainly has no time to waste on anything, and is marked by an extreme tightness, which sometimes loosens its texture to reveal a little violin solo, or what have you. All the same Sessions signposts are here, including the xylophone, the etched orchestrations, with punctuating bass drum, the angular melodies and tight strings.
Symphonies 6-8 were Sessions' 'War Symphonies' (Vietnam), and one certainly hears the darkness in all three. No. 8 has a particular foreboding which feels like the aftermath to some great nuclear accident.
I realize as I'm writing that I can't tell one apart from the other (6-9; Concerto for Orchestra (Symphony 10)) because Sessions' language is so integrated that he obviously has to reuse all his tricks all the time. The main reason I used the last of my unemployment money on Sessions is because there's enough MEAT here to keep me busy so I don't fret about not having anything new to listen to. When the chips are down, go for a tough nut!