Newberry Consort full of spirit, polish with program of rediscoveries

Newberry Consort

Two decades ago this month the Newberry Consort was among the first historically informed performing groups in the United States to revive the music of Baroque composer Johann Rosenmuller.

But some artists successful in their own time nonetheless require periodic revival thereafter, and as consort co-director David Douglass said at Friday night’s concert opening the season at Newberry Library, “Rosenmuller is rediscovered every five years.”

The all-Rosenmuller program drew heavily on the group’s 1995 compact disc, presenting five selections from an early dance suite written for students in Leipzig plus four sonatas and four vocal works from his maturity in Venice. The performances, spirited as well as polished, again went far to confirm Douglass’ assertion that Rosenmuller was “one of the greatest Baroque composers you’ve never heard.”

The sonatas for two, three, four and five instruments proved a special pleasure. At their heart is a kind of fugal writing rich in melody. Episodes both dour and lively form a rapidly changing stream of string color marked by many antiphonal effects and dramatic pauses. The fabric achieved particular sumptuousness owing to the sounds of a bass violin, theorbo and the consort’s new Roland Digital Organ, which with unwavering pitch samples an actual German Baroque instrument.

Rosenmuller so liked dramatic pauses that they were already, unusually, present in his early dance music, written for young performers to serenade nobility. The Suite in C Major includes three more dances than the consort presented, and such was the felicity of the others that it would have been nice to hear them. However, the greatest intensity of Rosenmuller’s expression came later, in his Venetian years, and that side of him was better illustrated by sacred vocal music.

Soprano Ellen Hargis’ agility and flawlessly crisp diction made the most of texts in Latin and German. The abrupt shifts of mood in the sonatas were heightened in the Psalm setting “In te, Domine speravi,” included scolding in “Ach, Herr, strasze mich nicht in deinem Zorn” and achieved clear triumph in “Jubilent aethera.”

The program will be repeated 8 p.m. Saturday at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St., and 3 p.m. Sunday at Alice Millar Chapel, 1870 Sheridan Road, Evanston; $35-$45; 773-669-7335.