As part of its Mendelssohn Festival in the Great Hall at Lucerne’s Culture and Congress Centre, the first note was a sorry one. Riccardo Chailly, who had been slated for this concert, was ill-disposed. Fortunately, the renowned Hungarian conductor Iván Fischer stepped in on Chailly's behalf, and was well-equipped to work his own magic with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra.

Iván Fischer conducts the Lucerne Festival Orchestra
© Peter Fischli | Lucerne Festival

Schubert’s delightful Overture in C major “in the Italian Style” is a work dating from 1817 that bubbles with invention. The LFO conveyed great lightness and excelled in the crescendos the young composer had generously lavished in his youthful enthusiasm.

Polish pianist Rafał Blechacz, winner of the prestigious International Chopin Piano Competition in 2005, made his Lucerne debut with Chopin’s Piano concerto no. 2 in F minor. Completed in 1830, when the composer was just 19, the work was premiered in his native Poland. Remarkably, the concerto represents the composer’s very first explorations into large-scale form, where, citing eminent musicologist, Thomas May, the pianist emerges as “the centre of gravity”, the orchestra providing a broader context for the piano’s magic. Those musings were enhanced particularly by six timpani, along with woodwinds and horns at striking intervals. Overall, given an orchestra of such size, the sense of perfect intimacy imparted was especially commendable.

Iván Fischer, Rafał Blechacz and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra
© Peter Fischli | Lucerne Festival

Last on the evening’s programme was Felix Mendelssohn’s magical Symphony no. 1 in C minor, another work penned by a teenager. The first movement Allegro highlighted the precise ensemble of the LFO strings. The Andante, which began with a tribute to the pastoral, included oboe and flute solos that were particularly commendable. The concertmaster’s gestures to his fellow players, drawn from many fine orchestras around the world, were commendable. 

Given that all three works on the programme were composed by Wunderkinder, this upbeat and delightful concert was a tribute to youth and beauty of the first order, and the attention to youthful genius even seemed to portend the many attributes of a glorious spring ahead.

Iván Fischer and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra
© Peter Fischli | Lucerne Festival

The Lucerne Festival Orchestra once again proved its punch as an astoundingly accomplished group of players and Fischer worked with them expertly, working from pocket scores. He was in excellent form, and the audience met him with both gratitude and enthusiasm. That, combined with the sublime accomplishment of the LFO players, made this Mendelssohn Festival concert nothing short of exhilarating.