Gramophone – May 2012

Two volumes of the Dutch Handel cantata series with new catalogue additions Aminta e Fillide was probably composed for Handel’s principal Roman patron, the Marquis Ruspoli (whose descendent Princess Claudia Ruspoli is official patron of this recording). The first version might have been produced in December 1706 but a comparison of the autograph and early manuscript sources reveals that, for a later performance (perhaps in September 1708), Handel inserted two big arias towards the end of the cantata.

Previous recordings by Denys Darlow and La Risonanza both incorporated Handel’s extra arias but Marco Vitale bucks the trend and reverts to the shorter first version. His conscientious booklet-note presents a sensible argument for his decision: a more natural flow to the conclusion of the poetry without two elaborate arias holding up the final duet, an avoidance of awkward modulations between old recitatives and new arias, and consistency of instrumental scoring for three violins and basso continuo (the extra music requires additional violins and viola).

Contrasto Armonico’s experiment produces an enjoyable alternative. String ritornellos are paced and played tenderly, and the relaxed exchange of recitatives serves the elegant Arcadian poetry. Fillide’s ‘Fiamma bella’ is sung enchantingly by Stefanie True (worthy winner of the 2011 London Handel Singing Competition). Klaartje van Veldhoven’s voice has a few shades more bite, which is ideal for the clarity of contrast between the two characters; she also sings Aminta’s ‘Se vago rio’ with captivating deftness (the pizzicato strings lacking viol one conjure an atn10spbere of gentle weightlessness).

On Vol4 the identical team of players and singers present five shorter cantatas that might have been written for Ruspoli, including the unique French cantata Sans y penser (copied for Ruspoli in September 1707), in which the shepherdess Silvie (True) and the shepherd Tirsis (Veldboven) take turns to share wry observations on the fickleness and tortures of love. The music is a rare instance of Handel composing Francophile vocal music; Vitale’s harpsichord-playing, continuo cellist Marta Semkiw and the two singers combine intuitively and stylishly to produce and inch-perfect performance. Neglected continuo cantatas Clori, vezzosa Clori and Lungi n’ando Fileno receive their first-ever recordings; in the latter, True poignantly expresses bow an abandoned lover wishes for death to bring an end to their fierce pains (‘Dunque se il tanto piangere’). In Clori, mia bella Clori, viouns converse beautifully with True (‘Mie pupille se tranquille’). Contrasto Armonico’s slow-burning series continues to furnish Handelian food for thought.

David Vickers