Handel’s cantata Arresta il passo is generally
known as Aminta e Fillide, the names of the two characters.
It was written in 1706/7 whilst Handel was in Rome and may be
the first work that he wrote in Rome for Marchese Ruspoli, one
of his major patrons there. Much of our knowledge of Handel’s
work at this time comes from the surviving copyists’ bills
from Ruspoli’s archives. In a rather charming piece of
synchronicity, the present recording is supported by Princess
There are, in fact, two versions of the cantata. For a later
performance, probably in 1708, two extra arias were added. It
is this later version which has generally been recorded. In
an interesting note in the CD booklet, Marco Vitale argues for
the first version as the new arias require instruments not used
in the earlier parts and also necessitate a rather unsatisfactory
modulation and transposition. In common with many of Handel’s
operas, it is likely that the earlier version is the strongest.
Listeners may regret the omission of the extra arias; it is
a shame that they could not have been included as an appendix,
especially as the disc is of such a short playing time.
The cantata opens with an arresting recitative Aresta il
passo ninfa (Halt your steps, nymph) in which Aminta almost
literally halts the orchestral overture in its tracks. It’s
an early example of Handel confounding our expectations of standard
forms for dramatic purposes. The plot, such as it is, consists
of the shepherd Aminta (Klaartje van Veldhoven) trying to seduce
the nymph Fillide (Stevanie True) and of her gradual response
to him. It is a charming and likeable piece which Marco Vitale
and his forces present in a simple and direct manner.
Minimal forces are used; the original version requires just
three violins, cello and harpsichord. This gives the performance
a wiry, direct feel - very much as if we were sitting in a chamber
listening to the original performers.
Dutch soprano Klaartje van Veldhoven as Aminta has an interesting
voice with something of an edge to it. Not everyone will like
it but, when used carefully, as here, it has the effect of adding
character. That said, her passage-work is sometimes rather smudged
though not fatally so.
Stefanie True as Fillide has a nicely contrasting voice, lighter,
clear and brilliant, less dramatic. These qualities are very
helpful in a work like this using just two soprano singers.
True has a fine way with Handel’s passage-work and interested
listeners might care to seek out Volumes 1 and 2 of Brilliant’s
Handel Cantata series in which True sings solo cantatas under
Marco Vitale’s direction.
Arresta il Passo contains some charming and glorious
music, such as Aminta’s infectiously dancing Al dispetto
di sorte crudele. Aminta’s aria Se vago rio,
beautifully sung by van Veldhoven, uses pizzicato string accompaniment
to striking effect - this and other bits were re-used by Handel
in his London operas.. True’s account of Fillide’s
E un foco and its preceding recitative is beautifully
touching. The arias for the two characters are neatly balanced
in numbers and the piece concludes with a duet where the two
voices blend and contrast nicely.
The CD booklet includes an article by Marco Vitale, artist biographies
and the text in Italian and English. But the CD only lasts 47
After many years when only a tiny handful were on disc, it is
heartening to find companies projecting complete Handel cantata
cycles. That on Glossa has been well received and Fabio Bonizzoni’s
account of Aminta e Fillide with La Risonanza has already
appeared. They recorded the later version of the cantata and
also included Clori, mia Bella Clori.
The performances here might lack the gloss and sophistication
of some others, but their directness has considerable charm.
Brilliant’s disc is fine in its way and at their super
budget prices is certainly a good way to learn this lovely repertoire.