‘Sunrise’ depicts Munch’s dark struggle with and against the forces of life, eventually finding resolution in the image of the sunrise. Like his paintings, Munch’s imagery is often powerful and visceral. Bjørnstad, however, steers clear of providing a musical analogue to Munch’s texts. His style is rooted in jazz-style modal and harmonic inflections, reminiscent at times of ECM stablemates Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays. […] Bjørnstad’s style is expressive rather than expressionist; lyrical, reflective, sometimes beautifully so, such as in the songs that feature vocalist Kari Bremnes (‘The Mother’ and ‘Open Window’). There are also some very telling contributions from cellist Aage Kvalbein and dynamic double bassist Bjørn Kjellemyr, as well as the composer himself on piano. The Oslo Chamber Choir sing with an intelligence and understanding for both the words and the music.
Pwyll ap Siôn, Gramophone
A work that manages to move naturally between choral pieces, chamber intermezzi, free-ish jazz interludes, folk-jazz waltzes and something that might best be described as Astrud Gilberto on a Norwegian odyssey. It’s based on texts by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, of The Scream fame, which Bjørnstad has set variously for the wonderfully guttural solo voice of Kari Bremnes, the Oslo Chamber Choir and a group of jazz and chamber musicians including the marvellous Aage Kvalbein, whose cello sings with soulful sadness and passion. A work of considerate scope, it lacks nothing in drama but, equally, isn’t afraid to hit you with a damned catchy tune.
Rob Adams, Sunday Herald
The performance of female vocalist Kari Bremnes and the Oslo Chamber Choir for the album renders Bjørnstad’s musical interpretation of Munch’s writings truly magical.
Hannah Clugston. Aesthetica
The texts deal with weighty subjects including Munch’s trauma as a child when his mother died. Aage Kvalbein’s brooding cello makes its personality felt early on, the gloriously dark sonorities in the solo pouring out in the first piece, one of the most memorable of the whole album, a piece that dwells on inner torment, a metaphorical bird of prey trapped inside the speaker’s very being, Bjørnstad’s accompaniment lapping in and out of the interweaving vocal part. It’s the alto saxophone of Matias Bjørnstad that acts as companion to Kari Bremnes’ vocal solo on ‘Moren’ (‘Mother’) Munch’s poetic recollection of his mother’s death. Moving, it’s not at all mawkish and there’s little sentimentality in Munch’s very modern elemental writing. Nineteen mostly short pieces in all here, some very brief indeed with a few coming in at under a minute although there is plenty of substance throughout. A serene chamber piece that exists beyond genre (with little jazz incidentally), there’s a hymn-like side to parts of it, for instance on the third piece ‘Nothing is Small’, but there are some rhythmic elements too for instance in ‘The Earth Loved the Air’ section while the first recitative is experimental with a free-jazz opening, otherwise ‘The Cliff’ has a latinate touch and a lightness that belies this meditation on suicide. But despite the overwhelming atmosphere of parts of the album there is also a lot of joy, ‘The Dance of Life’ most obviously harnessing the energy of the choir. Yet ‘Open Window’ has that heartbreaking cello again. You come away from the album with an overriding glimpse of the vividness and extremities of Munch’s sheer passion and even terror in his texts. It’s Bjørnstad’s keenness in observing these and channelling them through voices and his small group that is so remarkable.An album that balances huge tensions (‘Recitative II’), natural forces, the sound of the wind even evoked you’d swear, and somehow a coming to terms with it all on a piece such as the enchanting second ‘Intermezzo’. You might think of Munch in a very different way after listening to Sunrise, the sheer elementalism of the words and honesty of the performance striking and immediate.
Stephen Graham, Marlbank
As a pianist/composer who is also a novelist and biographer of Munch, Bjornstad is the perfect interpreter of this legacy and the 19 separate sections subtly move through myriad Munchian moods before ending with the transfiguring light of the closing ‘Sunrise’.
Phil Johnson, Independent On Sunday