Watching Janice Carissa perform October 8 at Salon Piano Series, it occurs to one that her home country, Indonesia, lies on the Pacific Ring of Fire. The 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora and the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa were among the largest in history.
Carissa, a diminutive musician of volcanic power, offered an ambitious program of Brahms and Prokofiev. Her performance awed the packed house with her Dionysian passion, shaped by the Apollonian rigors of her conservatory training.
Brahms composed his Sonata No. 3 in in f minor when he was 20 years old. Of epic length, it consists of five movements, rather than the traditional three or four. Along the way, Brahms quotes from Beethoven’s Symphony No 5 and the Pathetique, and from the finale of Felix Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No. 2.
Carissa’s playing was appropriately dramatic. She attacked fortissimo passages viciously, arms raised high. When concentrating she leaned close to the keyboard, eyes wide, a portrait of fierce concentration. Suddenly, she tosses her head back, ponytail flying.
Prokofiev wrote his Sonata No. 8 in B-flat Major in 1944. Based in fiery Romanticism, the work at times embraces the 20th Century’s dismissal of a definite tonal center, but then resolves briefly to tonality, before dispersing again into vague harmonic territory. Its supersonic tempos and difficult phrases suggesting Czerny exercises run amok, while the slow meditative passages suggest the pastels of Debussy, or scattering autumn leaves in a breeze.