In my reviews of his Symphonies #3 through 5, Rhapsody and late Concerto for orchestra (see Roger Sessions: Symphonies Nos. 1, 2, 3,Roger Sessions: Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 5; Rhapsody and Symphony 8 / Concerto for Orchestra), I commented that Sessions had composed the symphonies Schoenberg never wrote, and that statement can be equally applied to Symphonies 6, 7 and 9 featured here. They were written respectively in 1966, 1967 and 1968. The author of the liner notes, Andrea Omstead, a close friend and recognized specialist of Sessions, comments that 6 and 7 partake of a fifth compositional period of the composer, while 9 is representative of a sixth manner. Maybe so, but withouth scores and playing by ear, Sessions' style sounds fairly consistent throughout, and quite similar to the above-mentioned symphonies. And don't take my Schoenberg similitude as disparaging. On the contrary: Sessions may sound imitative, but I find him not inferior to his model - and after all, Schoenberg did NOT write these symphonies, so I am grateful to Sessions for doing it in Schoenberg's stead. So, for those who don't know the orchestral music of Sessions, if they, like me, appreciate the music of Schoenberg (especially his Variations Op. 31), if they recognize and enjoy its stern but intense atonal lyricism, the richness of its orchestral colors, the denseness of its contrapuntal activity, its drama, and even its relative rhythmic squareness, the chances are that they will like these very characteristics in the orchestral music of Sessions - and the other way around.
For newcomers to Sessions this disc is as good an introduction to the composer as they will find, and for the composer's admirers it is, needless to say, an indispensable acquisition.
Good to see that Phoenix picked up this long-gone Argo CD, with Symphonies 6, 7 & 9. See my review of the original issue, Roger Sessions: Symphonies 6, 7 & 9. That said, as I write the Argo disc can be found for just a few cents more than the reissue.
I titled my original review "more Schoenberg symphonies by Roger Sessions". Since Sessions embraced Schoenberg's serialism with his Third Symphony, this is to me the most striking and abiding characteristic of his Symphonic music: work after work it sounds like the Symphonies Schoenberg did not write. There is the rythmic squareness, the melodic austerity, the intricacy of counterpoint, the wealth of orchestral events, and the drama. Not immediately pleasurable, not easy listening, but highly rewarding - that is, if you like Schoenberg's Variations opus 31. It you hate them, steer clear of Sessions.
The complete symphonies of Sessions are available on CD: