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THERE'S a lot to report from the first concert in the BBC SSO's four-concert spring series of Afternoon Performances, which opened on Thursday.

First and foremost, the concert, admittedly very much a popular programme, drew the biggest audience yet for a BBC daytime concert, establishing decisively that there is an appetite and an audience for afternoon events.

Next, the casualties. Both the scheduled soloist and conductor were felled. Violinist Stefan Jackiw fell and damaged his hand, while conductor Gerard Korsten was taken ill. So the BBC hotlines rang a bit last weekend. Young American-born violinist Esther Yoo was drafted in for the concerto, while Polish conductor Michal Dworzynski, who has worked with the band before, took over directorial duties. It all gave the concert a certain edge.

The programme itself was lovely, with overtures opening each half: Schubert's Rosamunde and Rossini's Italian Girl in Algiers, both of which brimmed variously with melodic warmth, comic wit, and a real sense of pace: Dworzynski likes his bit of speed and drive, and has bags of energy and a big-boned approach to getting things moving.

Some of Esther Yoo's playing in Mozart's Third Violin Concerto had a slightly tentative feel to it, though her performance of the gorgeous slow movement, one of Mozart's great inspirations, was captivating and beautiful.

Dworzynski didn't so much start Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony as launch it; and the SSO, going in at white heat, didn't so much play it as bring it pouring off the page and into sound: it was like a great sunburst; a totally Mediterranean, thrilling, radiant performance of the symphony.


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