The Risør Festival is the midsummer marvel that for two decades has been one of the jewels in Norway’s cultural crown. The town, with its white wooden buildings nestling around the harbour, remains as enchanting as ever, but there have been developments since I was last there eight years ago.
There are new faces in the management team, and this year the violinist Henning Kraggerud has taken over from Leif Ove Andsnes as joint artistic director with the viola-player Lars Anders Tomter.
The intimate 17th-century wooden church with its richly ornate interior is still the chief concert venue, with the addition of a serviceable former furniture warehouse and a canvas-covered performing area at the harbour-side itself.
A new ticketing system, launched for the first time this year, seemed to provoke an equal number of grumbles and approvals.
Kraggerud and Tomter were versatile and visible directors, performing tirelessly both as soloists and in ensembles, and together playing Mozart’s "Sinfonia concertante” K364 with the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra in the opening concert. One of the attractions of Risor has always been that most of its artists are in residence for the entire week, so that all sorts of different combinations can be tried out during the three or four concerts a day.
There are hits and misses, of course, and this year there were some performances that could have done with more preparatory work. But among the hits were the singing of Bach and Schubert by the exceptional Norwegian baritone Johannes Weisser, and the performances of Britten’s “Six Metamorphoses after Ovid” and Poulenc’s Oboe Sonata by Nicholas Daniel, spiritedly accompanied by Kathryn Stott, who also gave a compelling account of Shostakovich’s Viola Sonata with Tomter.
Appearances by Andsnes triggered a special buzz, and his ability to galvanise and inspire was evident in piano quintets by Dvořák and Mozart.