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BSO players get the spotlight in Bach's Brandenburg Concertos

Wyatt Underhill, acting associate concertmaster of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
Wyatt Underhill, acting associate concertmaster of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. (Baltimore Symphony Orchestra)

In one of music history's favorite stories (scholars question the details, but why unravel a good yarn?), Johann Sebastian Bach sent six compositions to the Margrave of Brandenburg in 1721 and hinted at how much he would love to do more for the guy. The Margrave never sent a thank-you card, let alone a job offer.

These six pieces, known as the Brandenburg Concertos, gathered dust for more than a century before being uncovered, then went on to become among the best-loved classical works.

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The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra seems especially fond of them. For the third time in five years, all six have been packed into a single program.

On Thursday night at the Music Center at Strathmore, the playing was uniformly supple. Greater dynamic contrasts would have added even more to the evening, but that proved a minor matter given the infectious spirit onstage.

After leading a warmly nuanced account of Concerto No. 1 at the start, BSO music director Marin Alsop left the remainder of the program in the hands of the players.

No. 4 featured sure, colorful phrasing from violinist Wyatt Underhill, a pearly, seamless blend from flutists Chelsea Knox and Marcia Kamper. Underhill also guided a tight-knit ensemble of fellow string players in a buoyant account of No. 3.

A few other highlights: Andrew Balio's lucent trumpet work in No. 2; the lush tones of violists Lisa Steltenpohl and Karin Brown in No. 6; the elegant sounds of violinist Jonathan Carney and flutist Emily Skala in No. 5, which also found Lura Johnson, a stalwart of the whole concert, providing stylish work at the harpsichord.

The BSO performs Bach's Brandenburg Concertos at 8 p.m. June 10 and 3 p.m. June 11 at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St. Tickets are $33 to $99. Call 410-783-8000, or go to bsomusic.org.

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