If the "Cavatina" from Beethoven's Op. 130 String Quartet reflects a soul resigned and at peace, the "Grosse Fugue" that Beethoven wrote originally to follow it is a final mighty statement of defiance. Beethoven was convinced, by well-intentioned friends, to compose a different conclusion to that quartet, and the "Grosse Fugue" is usually played as a separate piece, where, without its context, it sounds merely wild and angry.
The Tokyo String Quartet put the fugue where it belonged last night in the third of this year's Beethoven cycle concerts at the Corcoran Gallery, giving to the two contrasting movements a stunning spectrum of sonorities and colors that intensified both the pain and the joy they project. In recent years the playing of the Tokyo Quartet has taken on an almost orchestral fullness and a chiseled outline that is sometimes brutal, but lavished on this music, the opulence and bite was exactly right.
Earlier in the program, however, these same characteristics threatened to overwhelm the early Op. 18, No. 1 Quartet and the terse Quartet Op. 95. These are truly chamber pieces, albeit powerful and dramatic, and the Tokyo ensemble, while playing with its accustomed virtuosity and flair, nevertheless lost a vital sense of chamber intimacy along the way.