Not a lot is known about the early life of Giorgio Gentili. He doesn't even warrant a mention in Christopher Hogwood's otherwise excellent monograph on the Trio Sonata (1979). Indeed his place of birth, Venice, and year of birth are only known through an edition of his works published in 1727. He rose to become one of the most respected violinists of the period. This is confirmed by his position in the orchestra of the San Marco chapel in Venice, where it is known that his salary doubled in just four years. There he was given responsibility for the violin solos. Gentili was appointed as maestro di istromenti at the Ospedale of the Mendicanti, a position he held for sixteen years. He composed six sets of twelve instrumental sonatas or concertos between 1701 and 1716. These quickly became known throughout Europe. Even so no copies of the original edition of the music presented on this disc have survived. It is only through a pirated version printed in Amsterdam in 1702 that this music has come to recorded light.
All but the first sonata are cast in four movements and are arranged in a slow-fast-slow-fast format. The has five ending with two fast movements. Whilst the music is not as original as Corelli's opus 1 or as insightful as Vivaldi's, there are glimpses of brilliance that show that Gentili was not just a virtuosic violinist but also a composer of some standing. These are well figured pieces that in places point the way to what was to come. For example, the Largo e staccato of the E minor Sonata No. 4 points towards the early classical period. This is music that deserves to be heard and I only hope that this will become the first release in a Brilliant Classics series of Gentili's works, akin to their Locatelli edition. On this evidence it would make a fine addition to the catalogue.
The playing of the Soavi Affetti Baroque Music Ensemble is excellent. They breathe real life into this music with Anna Clemente's wonderful support of the two sparkling violinists, Patrizio Focardi and Paolo Cantamessa, being a highpoint. Whether on harpsichord or organ, they bring added gravitas and depth as do Rebeca Ferri and Giovanni Bellini. The recorded sound is very fine with the acoustic being sympathetic to the music and musicians. The booklet notes are informative and helpful, especially when there is a lack of other information. They do however, point to the eighth Sonata as having five movements whilst the recording is tracked as four, the first having a complex slow-fast-slow structure of its own. The notes also refer to the second slow section of this movement actually being a separate movement. This is a recording for all devotees of the Italian baroque, one that would sit well in any collection and add to the enjoyment and understanding of the music of this period.