LA JOLLA — Scholars may debate the influence that the French Revolution exerted on musical history, but harpsichordist Jennifer Paul had no particular thesis to promulgate in her recital Sunday night at the La Jolla Congregational Church. She merely used the upcoming bicentennial of the Revolution as an excuse to play a two-hour survey of French harpsichord music written from the middle of the 17th Century up to the eve of the Revolution. Her sole "revolutionary" link was a 1792 composition by Claude Balbastre based on "La Marseillaise," which she performed as the program's finale.
From a listener's point of view, there are many reasons not to play a program devoted exclusively to French Baroque music. In musical structure, these composers suffered from arrested development, and, after a while, their overly precious suites sound tediously repetitive. Nor is this musical tradition profound or probing. To place these French suites next to the preludes and fugues of J. S. Bach is like comparing "Gilligan's Island" to the comedies of Shakespeare.
Realizing these problems, Paul anchored her recital with a determined and solidly sculpted performance of Antoine Forqueray's Fifth Suite. Although the suite's finale is an exercise in unabashed pictorialism--the Roman God Jupiter hurling thunderbolts to earth--the other movements eschew frivolity and excessive ornamentation.