Symphony No. 8

The American Symphony Orchestra; Leon Botstein, conductor

Beginning a symphony with maracas usually implies a Latin tinge. Not so for Roger Sessions’s Eighth Symphony, composed in 1968, which uses maracas as the sole accompaniment for the first utterance of an angular twelve-tone row. The result is one of the most clearly stated openings of a serial orchestral work I have ever heard. The Sessions symphony is one of four extremely cerebral works collected on a new CD featuring the American Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leon Botstein. The common ground between it and its companions on this disc—George Perle’s Transcendental Modulations (1993), Bernard Rands’s Beckett-inspired …where the murmurs die… (1995), and Aaron Copland’s Inscape (1967) from his late serial period—is that all of these were New York Philharmonic commissions funded by Francis Goelet, who was arguably the most significant music patron in U.S. history.

—FJO