But per week later, with the Berlin Philharmonic, he balanced natural flow and robust urgency in Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto and Brahms’s Second Symphony. Without lacking vividness, the Brahms had a mild solid in its opening; the Allegro finale sent off shiny energy, but its colours were the blaze of a sunset quite than daylight brashness. It was just the fitting amount of goodbye.
And after the high-spirited delicacy of the Schumann, Barenboim joined Argerich, a musical companion of his for the reason that Forties, on the keyboard for Bizet’s four-hand piece “Little Husband, Little Wife” from the suite “Children’s Games”: a moment of aching tenderness.
Barenboim took the handful of stairs to the stage fastidiously but without counting on the handrail, and his motions on the rostrum were sometimes wide and sweeping. But he often appeared to be overseeing as much as conducting: leading with watchful eyes but keeping his arms down, experienced enough to know what the orchestra didn’t need him from him.
Thomas, too, told The Times in August that his illness had forced him to be more efficient in his gestures. On Sunday he was fluent but restrained, sometimes keeping a straightforward beat; sometimes slicing his baton horizontally; sometimes pumping his arms firmly downward; sometimes raising his hands, cupped around an invisible ball, as if each to summon and catch the sound.
There was the straightforwardness that has all the time characterised his Mahler. (Amongst many recorded cycles of the symphonies, his no-nonsense, beautifully performed set with the San Francisco Symphony, which he led for 25 years, was my alternative to play straight through on an extended road trip last 12 months.) Here in Los Angeles, his pace was patient even in the center movements, which, greater than sardonic or sour, felt proud and feisty. Here I’m, they appeared to say. Take me or leave me.
The work’s glacial final minutes, with the strings slipping past each other because the beat grows amorphous, seemed, greater than ever in my experience, to explain the haziness of the top of consciousness.
But there was not, within the silence that follows the dying of the sound, the same old game of chicken between an audience raring to applaud and a conductor unwilling to release. On Sunday there was no battle of wills, no self-indulgence, before the ovation. Thomas let the quiet come, then let it go.