In the 29 years since its formation, Philharmonia Hungarica has evolved from an orchestra peopled with expatriate Hungarian musicians--leaving their homeland after the uprising of 1956--to one made up of an odd mix of international instrumentalists, "a new place for refugee musicians," as the program for the ensemble's concert at El Camino College on Friday night put it.
Such a description would imply a high quality in the mix, but the truth, as heard in a Telemann-Schubert-Mussorgsky-Bartok agenda conducted by Andre Bernard, fell short of that quality. Sounding like an ordinary big-city pick-up band on a poor night, Philharmonia Hungarica got through this program without disaster, but also without distinction.
Bernard proved himself a primitive podium personality of small ideas and mechanical aspect, one who does not lead so much as hang out with his orchestral colleagues. In the role of trumpet soloist, the French musician gave an incisive and stylish account of Telemann's Concerto in D, assisted neatly by the mostly unconducted ensemble.
His probing of the "Unfinished" Symphony, "A Night on Bald Mountain" and Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra, however, resulted in no revelations or special insights into their essences; nor did slovenly playing and haphazard blending result in handsome sounds for their own sake.
And throughout, one kept wondering, in the absence of a personnel roster, about the identity of all those players--the majority of whom were clearly born after 1956.