George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Arresta il Passo (Aminta e Fillide) HWV83 (1706/7) [47.55]
Aminta - Klaartje van Veldhoven (soprano)
Fillide - Stefanie True (soprano)
Contrasto Armonico/Marco Vitale
rec. no details supplied
Complete cantatas Vol. 3
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 Claudia Ruspoli.
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 minutes.
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.  

Robert Hugill
The performances here might lack the gloss and sophistication of some others, but their directness has considerable charm.