FALMOUTH — The a cappella choir of St. Mary Schola and its baroque ensemble, under the direction of Bruce Fithian, launched a time machine Sunday into the greatest period of English music, with works by Henry Purcell and excerpts from the opera “Venus and Adonis” by his teacher, John Blow.

The selections in the program dealt with aspects of love, from the sacred “Sound the Trumpet” to the salacious — catches from men’s clubs of 17th-century England. One wonders how the members managed Purcell’s polyphonic lines after a few bumpers of claret.

Blow’s “Venus and Adonis” was surprisingly moving, in addition to being a seminal work of the British operatic tradition. The parts of Venus and Adonis were well sung by Andrea Graichen and John Adams and the orchestra, consisting of two recorders, violin, viola, cello and archlute, with harpsichord continuo, authentically accompanied both singing and action. The use of the recorder, with its hollow voice, against the soprano line in “No, my shepherd, haste away,” was strikingly effective.

The opera has some unusual touches. Instead of opting for horn calls to denote the hunt in which Adonis is killed, Blow simulates the yelping of hounds on the violin.

In a reversal of the traditional story, Venus urges her lover to hunt the boar with his companions, “since absence tunes the mind to love.” When Adonis insists that some men “delight in heavy chains,” Venus replies that “Those are fools of mighty leisure: Wise men love the easiest pleasure.” Cupid, sung by Molly Harmon, also has apt comments about courtly love.

In opening remarks, Fithian commented on how much “Venus and Adonis” had influenced Purcell’s most famous opera, “Dido and Aeneas.” There is even more similarity with Purcell’s “King Arthur.” Some of the dances and shepherds’ choruses could be transposed, with no one the wiser.

The funeral music that concludes the opera is magnificent in its majesty and powerful choral harmony. It has continued to influence music for stately occasions down to “Pomp and Circumstance” and beyond.

Both the opera and Purcell’s love songs, which comprised the first half of the concert, surprise with their psychological astuteness and the way music is used to convey states of mind, in spite of the conventions of nymphs and shepherds. “Bess of Bedlam,” sung by Sarah Johnson, is a masterpiece in this respect.

The composers, and their poets, such as Dryden, also had a wry sense of humor about the conventions of love.  “The Knotting Song,” sung by Nicholas MacDonald, portrays a lover pouring out his heart to Phillis, who “without a frown or smile, sat and knotted all the while.” The phrase “and knotted” is repeated and repeated like a broken record, until the lover has to go off and hang himself (or not).

Christopher Hyde’s Classical Beat column appears in the Maine Sunday Telegram. He can be reached at: [email protected]