Unfinished Business

Gustav Mahler set to work on his Symphony No. 10. despite a crumbling marriage and extraordinary suffering due to angina. Though the work remained trapped in sketch form when Mahler died in 1911, it was later reconstructed by musicologist Deryck Cooke, who premiered it in 1960. While Mahler devotees don't consider it a "true work," it is nevertheless an interesting window into the composer's musical sensibilities.

Sir Simon Rattle's latest treatment of the incomplete work, leading the Berlin Philharmonic, resonates with all the brooding imagery and mystical power of Mahler's music.

The first movement (RealAudio excerpt) is a glorious jumble of Mahlerian imagery, with passages of titanic power dotted with almost naive lyrical moments. Rattle helps the piece move through some of the quaintly pastoral passages with a much-needed swifter tempo, while the string section displays brilliant phrasing without sounding too drippy. The Berlin Philharmonic — featuring one of the most formidable brass sections around — passes through awkward leaps and bizarre key signatures with astounding ease.

Soft images give way to sheer sonic power later in the first movement, (RealAudio excerpt) a true reflection of Mahler's condition and the totality of his ideas. The second and third movements have their moments of brevity and almost light-heartedness, but that placid scene is destroyed by the death beat of the bass drum that opens the fifth movement (RealAudio excerpt). Winds play a greater role in this section of the work, especially flutes and clarinets. Unlike the triumph of Mahler's first and second symphonies, the work ends in quiet resignation.