If the world seems too complex and noisy, an evening of "early music" might be just what you need.

European music written before 1650 or so strips things down to essentials. The sound is simple and straightforward, but often quite beautiful, a refreshing palate cleanser from the layers upon layers found in much of modern music … or anything from the 1800s on.

This weekend, the Bach Society of Minnesota launched a month-long celebration of its 90th anniversary with a program that only had a couple of short pieces by J.S. Bach. Instead, the focus was upon the foundation for his style.

"Legends & Lies: The Story of Till Eulenspiegel," a collaboration with male vocal octet Cantus, weaves tales of a legendary medieval-era trickster between brief works either written during the Renaissance or fashioned after the style by contemporary composers.

On Saturday night, I sat within the intriguing modern design of Minneapolis' acoustically splendid Westminster Hall and hit a delightful refresh button on my late-COVID-era experience. Immersed in music of 500 years ago or more, I gained some worthwhile context, messages transported across time from a place where plagues were prominent, warfare wearying, but passions as pronounced as today.

And, rather than a dry academic take on these tunes of the past, Cantus and a septet of instrumentalists from the Bach Society seized upon the heart of the music and often emphasized the dance structures that bubbled through them like a swollen spring stream. This was an early music concert that sometimes felt more like a jam session, players of baroque-era violins, guitars and recorders of varied voices trading solos.

While the popular Cantus is surely the big draw on this program, the Bach Society musicians often upstaged them with high-energy instrumental interludes, including Andrea Falconiero's take on the traditional "La Follia" melody and a glorious bit of old-world Celtic energy on "My Lady Carey's Dompe" and "Duke of Norfolk," gleaned from anonymous sources.

But singers and instrumentalists came together marvelously on some Josquin des Prez of the late 1400s. And Giovanni de Palestrina's "Adoramus Te" was Cantus' harmonic peak of the evening, a heavenly blend lent to a prayer of adoration.

Yet the modern takes on the old style were equally captivating. The Bach Society's artistic director, Matthias Maute, sprinkled a collection of his original chaconnes throughout the program, each echoing the sound of centuries past. And Michael McGlynn wrote two of the most fascinating works: A bodhran rumbled through the Celtic-flavored "Geantrai," while his "Tenebrae IV" provided the evening's chief hear-a-pin-drop moment, as tenor Alberto de la Paz sang alone a yearning text from the biblical book of Lamentations.

And who knew that legendary 20th-century cellist Pablo Casals also wrote retro vocal works like "O Vos Omnes," another take on the same text from Lamentations? Each of the players shone brightly, with the recorders of Maute and Clea Galhano singing out, Phillip Rukavina's baroque guitar vigorously strummed, and percussionist Rex Benincasa raising the adrenaline ante with varied bells, drums and castanets.

Now that the early-music group the Rose Ensemble has dissolved, these concerts seem an appropriate destination for its ample fan base. Sure, music of this era isn't totally in Cantus' wheelhouse, but the tales of Till that dot the program make it a fascinating escape into another time.

The Minnesota Bach Festival continues through May 28. See bachsocietymn.org for information.

'Legends & Lies: The Story of Till Eulenspiegel'
With: Bach Society of Minnesota and Cantus.
Monday: 7:30 p.m., Unitarian Universalist Church of Minnetonka, 2030 Wayzata Blvd. E., Wayzata
Tuesday: 11 a.m., Meetinghouse Church, 6200 Colonial Way, Edina.
Tickets: $5-$34, cantussings.org

Rob Hubbard is a freelance Twin Cities classical music writer. wordhub@yahoo.com