(Here’s another of the pithy reviews I wrote as a freelancer for the Los Angeles Times back in the day. I’m surprised at how fearless I seem to be, but Bernheimer created an atmosphere where we felt safe to do this type of thing, where we were actually encouraged to. I don’t really remember this concert, not even after re-reading the review. — TM.)

MUSIC REVIEWS : Lullabies From the Lizst Chamber
COSTA MESA — The Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra is for people who like to listen to classical music with their feet up in an easy chair while reading a book. Then they fall asleep.

It is a highly stylized type of playing. The Franz Liszt’s sound, under its longtime leader and concertmaster Janos Rolla, is polished to a lustrous sheen, but is never brilliant or steely, or golden or burnished for that matter. It is a distinctly silken sonority, the violins sugary sweet and soft-edged, the violas, cellos and bass of this 17-member string ensemble acting as poised foundation. Homogeneity is striven for at all costs, and achieved. Pizzicatos become puffy satin pillows of sound.

As heard Saturday in Segerstrom Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center (the group was also scheduled to appear Sunday at UCLA), the much-recorded, Budapest-based ensemble, now on its 10th U.S. tour, delivered the cushy goods once again. The program offered Dvorak and Tchaikovsky lite as a framework, with some easy-listening baroque in the middle. Luckily, guitarist Angel Romero was on hand.

In a show within a snooze, Romero played his own arrangements of the Oboe Concerto in C by Alessandro Marcello and the Lute Concerto in D, R. 93, by Vivaldi. To both works he brought an effortless virtuosity and projection (without amplification), and a vital, engaging musicianship.

The two slow movements were particularly cherishable, with Romero’s fluid use of color and articulation, singing phrasing and vibrato, and dead-center timing. Rolla and orchestra stayed nicely out of his way and showed some spirit in the finales.

In a solo encore, Romero captured every inch of the giddy showmanship in the Fantasia from the “Andaluza” Suite by his father, Celedonio Romero.

In Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, Opus 48, and Dvorak’s Serenade for Strings, Opus 22, Rolla led well-drilled, emotionally wan performances. Not that either of these works plumb the depths of profundity, but Rolla and ensemble opted for smooth surfaces throughout. There’s an especial effort to avoid hard attacks in this orchestra, a refusal to press the bow for intensity. The results are obviously what these musicians set out for, but why should we find lulling such a lofty goal?