Ever since the late 1950s, when young musicians began forming ensembles that specialized in Baroque music, played on period-appropriate instruments – harpsichords and lutes, violins using gut strings, valveless brass, and winds built to 17th century specifications – early music has been a growth industry within the classical music world.

Not that there weren’t earlier attempts to revive long-neglected music and antique sounds. Arnold Dolmetsch, Wanda Landowska, Rosalyn Tureck and others took up the good fight earlier in the 20th century, and had enthusiastic followers.

But it wasn’t until the ’50s and ’60s that these sounds began to resonate with listeners seeking fresh material that could challenge the dominance of the 19th century canon, and the movement’s popularity has grown steadily since then, as has its repertory: On recordings, you can find the orchestral and keyboard works of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and even Chopin, performed on instruments built as they were in the early 19th century.

With one of the great centers of early music performance only two hours away in Boston, it is surprising that period instrument ensembles seem not to be plentiful in Portland as well. But the Portland Conservatory of Music is doing its part to bring these sounds into the spotlight with its annual Portland Early Music Festival.

Now in its fourth season, the festival offered three concerts over the weekend at Woodfords Congregational Church. The repertory was focused on the Baroque era, but varied, with works from England on Friday, music from Saxony (which includes Dresden and Bach’s turf, Leipzig) on Saturday, and music by Bach and his contemporaries Sunday.

I caught the Saturday night installment, because it promised the greatest share of rarities, not least a few movements from a sonata by Sylvius Leopold Weiss, performed by the festival’s director, Timothy Burris.

Weiss was a star lutenist-composer in his day, but although guitar (and lute) students see plenty of his music in their studies, few seem to take it to the stage.

That is mystifying, given Weiss’s combination of harmonic freedom and melodic ingenuity.

Burris, who has recorded some of Weiss’s work side by side with Bach’s lute music, made a strong case for the composer with his warm-toned performances of the Fantasia, Allemande and Gavotte from Weiss’s Suite No. 11.

I wish he had played the entire suite, but he apparently opted for variety over completeness in the available time. (The Sunday program, similarly, offered individual movements from Bach suites.)

Gavin Black, the festival’s harpsichordist, also campaigned for a neglected composer, Johann Caspar Friedrich Fischer.

His performance of “Uranie,” an eight-movement partita, was assured and colorful, particularly in the Sarabande (for which he used the clipped tones of the harpsichord’s lute stop) and the flighty Passacaglia that closed the work. Black also gave a virtuosic account of Bach’s Prelude and Fantasy in A minor (BWV 922), an early work that offers a sense of the young Bach’s freewheeling improvisational prowess.

Each half of the program included a secular cantata exploring the downside of romance – infidelity in Vivaldi’s “Perfidissimo Cor!” and unrequited love in Johann David Heinichen’s “La Bella Fiamma.”

The mezzo-soprano Joëlle Morris sang them with the requisite passion, conveyed in an admirably dark vocal tone.

The accompanying continuo group included Black, Burris and a bassoonist, Charles Kaufmann.

More typically, the bass instrument in such a performance is a cello, and for a smoothly blended sound, it is generally a better choice. Or perhaps it’s just that modern listeners are more used to hearing the cello in this context.

As Kaufmann noted, in one of several amusing asides before and between the movements of his deft rendering of Johann Friedrich Fasch’s Bassoon Sonata in C, strings and winds were used interchangeably as continuo instruments in the 18th century. In both the cantatas and the Fasch Sonata in C, Kaufmann – who is also an organist and choral conductor – proved to be a skilled, thoughtful player who made the bassoon lines sing and dance more than this low-pitched reed instrument typically has an opportunity to do.

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