Recitals exclusively devoted to French Baroque music are normally encountered only at universities or specialist early-music festivals.

On Friday evening, one was performed at First Lutheran Church in Winthrop, Minn., amid the cornfields and grain silos of farm country.

It came courtesy of La Grande Bande, an early-music ensemble founded by Gaylord, Minn., resident Michael Thomas Asmus, a graduate of Gustavus Adolphus College. He splits his time between working on the family farm and finishing a doctorate in musical arts at Stony Brook University in New York.

Friday found him at the keyboard of a splendid William Dowd harpsichord, leading the opening concert of La Grande Bande's debut season.

Three string players — violinists Lindsey Bordner and Elizabeth York, and viola da gamba player Maryne Mossey — were on stage with him, all using instruments of the Baroque period.

They opened with a classic of the French Baroque, the first of François Couperin's "Concerts Royaux," written in 1714 for the court of Louis XIV.

The elegant contours of Couperin's writing were traced with warmth and sensitivity, with a sprightly dance step in the Allemande and a solemn dignity in the ensuing Sarabande.

A certain reticence occasionally caused phrase endings in the strings to tail off prematurely, as the players acclimated to First Lutheran's intimate acoustics.

But they adjusted quickly, as gambist Mossey gave a nimbly expressive account of a suite from Marin Marais' "Pièces de violes," a work contemporaneous with Couperin's "Concerts."

Gentle melancholy is a keynote in much of Marais' music, and it was immediately evident in Mossey's introspective reading of the opening Prélude.

Marais has emotional variety, too, as Mossey showed in the athletic finger-stretches of the balletic Caprice that followed.

Marais and Couperin are well-known names in French Baroque music. But even aficionados of the genre might have had difficulty identifying the two other composers in the recital.

A pair of sonatas by Jean-François Dandrieu certainly signaled a composer worth more than the minimal attention that posterity has paid him.

The first, for violin, elicited a sparky response from soloist Bordner, especially in the perky dance rhythms of the Giga, where the worlds of Baroque violin and old-time country fiddling overlapped suggestively.

More rhythmic chicanery came in the Dandrieu Trio Sonata that concluded the concert, as Bordner and York played "dueling banjos" with the antiphonal violin licks of the finale.

York had her own moment in the spotlight in a Violin Sonata by Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre. The bittersweet Aria was a standout moment.

Asmus' judicious, rhythmically supple harpsichord playing was a civilized presence in all five pieces.

Asmus has worked a minor miracle in getting La Grande Bande up and running in Sibley County, and it has four more concerts slated for the 2019-20 season.

The next performance is in November at the Arlington Haus in Arlington, Minn., with works by Bach and Telemann on the menu. Friday's edifying, entertaining season-opener in Winthrop thoroughly whetted the appetite.

Terry Blain is a freelance classical music critic for the Star Tribune. Reach him at