Classical: Norway's sounds and visions

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RISoR IS a small coastal town halfway down the eastern side of the bottom tip of Norway. Every summer since 1991 it has been host to a week-long chamber-music festival, under the artistic direction of pianist Leif Ove Andsnes and violist Lars Anders Tomter. The giddy enthusiasm that attends the festival draws some of the best-esteemed names on the classical circuit, who join the cream of young Norwegian musicians in nose-to-tail music-making. This year's festivities took place a fortnight ago whereupon, on the inspired invitation of William Lyne, manager of the Wigmore Hall, the festival took up residence in the Wigmore for five fizzing concerts last week - the first event in a two-year rolling Visions of Norway programme intended to present aspects of Norwegian culture to the Brits.

The Norwegians brought with them most of the best of their programmes: some standard classics, not least a bouquet of Brahms songs, beautifully delivered by our own Catherine Wyn-Rogers, and Grieg - the Third Violin Sonata and five songs. This year's "theme" in Risor was neo-classicism, and so we were treated to sparkling readings of Stravinsky (the Septet and the Suite from The Soldier's Tale), Martinu (the piano sextet La Revue de Cuisine), the Hindemith sonatas for horn and for trumpet, and Jancek's spiky Concertino.

The middle programme of the five opened with Britten's luminously lovely but rarely heard Young Apollo, for piano (Andsnes), string quartet and strings, a tribute to Britten's concept of ideal beauty. And it closed with Walton's Sonata for Strings, his 1971 adaptation of the String Quartet in A from 1945-47, played here by the Risor Festival Strings, around 20- strong, all of them soloists or chamber musicians in their own right. The results were electrifying: imagine the absolute precision of the best string quartet combined with the power of an orchestral string section and you have something of the visceral excitement of this performance. The same intensity suffused Honegger's Second Symphony, Hardenberger's trumpet blending with them from the balcony, unseen.

There was, of course, Norwegian music, though not enough. Andsnes played four of Geirr Tveitt's atmospheric, tautly harmonised Folktunes from Hardanger (c 1942). The young Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto joined Tomter for Bjarne Brustad's whimsical Capricci (1931), both players obviously enjoying themselves hugely. The Risor strings drew thunderous applause with the bleak, Shostakovichian Adagio (1953) by Edvard Fliflet Brin (1924-76), a deeply moving lament of stark honesty. And the late Johan Kvandal, who died in February in his 80th year, was commemorated with his engaging Quintet for Hardanger fiddle and quartet.

The work that should have been brought to London was the Piano Quintet by Ludvig Irgens Jensen (1894-1969), Norway's greatest composer; it was performed in Risor this year for the first time anywhere since 1944. Instead, the Wigmore series closed with the Schumann Quintet, played by Julian Rachlin, Kuusisto, Tomter and Jan-Erik Gustafsson, with Enrico Pace at the piano. All week I had resented the Schumann its usurpation of Irgens Jensen's place on the programme - until I heard what they made of it: quite the most urgent, hair-raisingly vital performance of the piece I ever expect to hear.