Three versions of Beethoven's wild, terrifyingly challenging Grosse Fuge in two evenings could be too much of a good thing. But when only one of them is satisfying and enlightening, it's simply a drag. On Wednesday, the Lindsay Quartet placed the Grosse Fuge where Beethoven originally intended it - as the finale of his six-movement op130 String Quartet. The first audience found it too difficult, and, uncharacteristically, Beethoven agreed to substitute something easier.
The fact is that even in a half-decent performance, the Grosse Fuge makes much more sense as the culminating stage of op 130's much larger argument. Its strangely tentative beginning - fragments of thematic ideas gradually forming into something superbly muscular and resolute - seems the most natural thing in the world after the broken "oppressed" (Beethoven's word) violin tune of the preceding Cavatina. And this was a much more than half-decent performance. The Lindsays may have been a touch more technically wild and woolly than normal, but the fire, the spirit and intellectual understanding made this one of the most powerful vindications of Beethoven's original plan I can remember.
After this, both arrangements of the Grosse Fuge in Thursday's London Philharmonic were grey disappointments. For one thing, with the Lindsay experience still fresh, the work sounded less like an independent monument than ever. For another, both arrangements subtracted far more than they added. Michael Gielen's written introduction to his transcription for string orchestra was ominous: how could anyone with a pair of ears claim that Beethoven was unconcerned with "the colour of the sounds" - to take just one example, what about the cello's fortissimo open C string in the third fugue? …