The Norwegian trained as a classical pianist and has for quite a while now been developing two artistic paths in parallel, one as an improvising musician with strong jazz leanings, the other as a novelist.
This double discs brings these two paths together. His trilogy of novels about the young pianist Aksel Vinding, published between 2004 and 2009, are inspired by his experiences and those of other music students in Oslo in the late ’60s/early ’70s.
He writes in the liner notes: “I recalled the feeling of community we shared: being able to meet each other and talk about our ambitions… Now, many years later, I am struck by how little interest we had in building careers. We did not play the piano to become famous or to win competitions. We played in order to express something…”
And Bjornstad has pursued the path of expression, both in music and words, ever since.
So, of what does this collection, released to tie in with his 60th birthday and with the publication of the Vinding trilogy in one volume, comprise?
Well, the first disc is a series of solo piano pieces, some full improvised, some explorations of themes, that Bjornstad made while still thinking about his fictional character and the stories of the books. He recorded it on a Bechstein piano in a recording studio near the Tyri Fjord, and it has both a reflective mood yet also a sunny disposition. In part this might come from the characteristics of the piano – quite bright and shimmeringly resonant – but it must also come from Bjornstad’s ability to convey a suggestion of layered moods. There is often a poignancy to his melodies, but if there is sorrow it’s the sweet kind.
The other disc features a programme of classical piano music from the three books, played at a special concert held in Oslo in 2009. So, we get the adagios from Mozart’s concerto No 23, Ravel’s in G major, and Rachmaninov’s No 2, plus Debussy’s Clair de lune, a Chopin ballade, a Beethoven sonata and Barber’s Adagio for strings.
You might have these pieces on other recordings, but taken as a programme they provide a lovely backdrop and context for Bjornstad’s solo piano pieces. Now to get hold of the books, of which I think perhaps only the first is available, as To Music, in English translation.