Concert Review: Janice Carissa, October 8, 2022

By Paul Baker

Watching Janice Carissa perform October 8 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.

During the evening, Tim Farley introduced us to the costar of the performance, a 1950 Steinway concert grand. He noted that the Steinway company manufactured its first piano in 1853, the same year Brahms composed his Sonata. Coincidence? Tuned specially for this performance, the instrument sounded clear, transparent, and bright, even when Carissa played at triple fortissimo.

After acknowledging a well-deserved standing ovation and a bouquet of roses. Carissa remarked, "Thank you for being such a warm and inspiring audience, so joyful to play for. I can feel that in tonight's journey, you were there with me, every step of the way."

Paul Baker is the host of "Listen Adventurously," a program of contemporary and 20th-Century classical music, streaming Mondays 5am to 8am at and over the air at 89.9 FM, Madison.