Presti lagoya DHR8140

Ida Presti and Alexandre Lagoya (guitars)
Volume 2: Unissued solo, duo and chamber recordings (1937-1969)Andrew Dawes (violin), Orford String Quartet
Doremi DHR-8140 [78]

Time is no respecter of persons, and it takes little effort to recall the names of brilliant musicians whose lives have been tragically truncated by malady and circumstance. French violinist Ginette Neveu was killed in a plane crash, aged 30; Rumanian pianist Dinu Lipatti died at the age of 33 from the consequences of Hodgkin’s disease. In the context of this recording we may add the name of French guitarist Ida Presti, arguably the greatest guitarist of the 20th century, who died aged 42 from complications related to lung cancer; she was a cigarette smoker. This habit also contributed to the death of Francisco Tarrega (1852-1909) and the great Jose Luis Gonzalez (1932-1998). It is said that all of Tarrega’s guitars had cigarette ash burns in their lacquer from his constant smoking of tobacco.

Ida Presti was born Yvette Montagnon, in the Parisian suburb of Suresnes. Her father was her first teacher, and thought the name ‘Ida Presti’ sounded better than that of her birth (Presti derived from her mother’s maiden name). She played in public for the first time aged 8, and gave her inaugural concert at the age of 10. Presti pursued a very successful recording and concert career as a soloist until she met, and married, Egyptian/French guitarist Alexander Lagoya. In this partnership she devoted her entire energies to the Duo Presti and Lagoya. The pair formed the most accomplished duo in classical guitar history, performing over 2000 concert, globally.

One aspect of Presti’s technique which has always caught the eye of guitarists, is her right hand position, which understandably contributed to her amazing dexterity with that hand. In certain photographs the wrist is held rather high. slightly arched, and the finger position pretty much at right angles to the strings of the instrument. This is in stark contrast to many modern schools in which the ‘lute’ right hand is employed. The fingers, flat wrist and arm are all held pretty much in a straight line.

There seems to be much made about Presti’s playing with right side of the nails; this same employment is common to Segovia, and many other eminent players. The photos accompanying this disc show little difference between the right hand positions of Presti and Lagoya. A quick review of photographs of Segovia and Tarrega show the same right hand position. While this review is not a treatise on technique of the right hand, it is worth noting that one will never observe a flamenco guitarist who plays with the ’lute’ right hand. It impairs the interaction of the thumb and ‘i’ finger, and produces a substantially inferior tone.

This disc offers repertory in three key areas: the short solo career of Ida Presti; music by the Duo Presti and Lagoya, and recordings of music from the solo career of Lagoya after the death of his wife. Aside from any recording blemishes, a direct consequence of the era in which they were recorded, the playing by Presti is what one would anticipate apropos the indication by Segovia that, after hearing her play, he had nothing more to contribute to her development. Having searched the archives of classical guitar, one will not find another duo to compare with the magnificence of their playing. While it does not appear on this disc, the best recording ever made of the classical guitar, is their rendition of Handel’s Chaconne, HWV 435. Segovia may have described the guitar as a miniature orchestra, however in this particular rendition we experience an expansive variety of guitar sounds the combination of which are revelatory, and illustrate Segovia’s very point in a unique way This style of duo playing, with such prowess and musicality, has never been replicated.

Time may be no respecter of persons, but it also changes everything, including practice and perception in music. It was customary for Segovia to cherry-pick from the suites of composers such as Bach, playing only his favoured movements. Segovia never recorded an entire Bach Cello Suite until ‘nudged’ by John WIllians, who was the first to record an entire Cello Suite. Bream also embraced the principle of presenting a suite in its entirety. Another characteristic of Segovia, both in concert and on recordings, was the inclusion of several small pieces and studies by composers such as Aguado. Charming and melodious though it may be, one would not find the Carcassi Etude Opus 60, No 3 as part of a modern-day guitar recording programme. We can be appreciative that it appears here (original 1969) because Lagoya makes real music of this famous little treasure.

There is a general dearth of recorded music by Presti and Lagoya commercially available, so any new material is welcomed enthusiastically. Aside from the enjoyment of listening to these guitarists, this disc is also a valuable contribution to the recorded history of the classical guitar. It should be purchased and treasured to avoid any future disappointment in the event of deletion from the catalogue.

Zane Turner

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf (May 2023)

Isaac Albéniz (1864-1909)
Rumores de la Caleta, Opus 71, No. 6
Joseph Malats (1872-1912)
Serenata espanola
Federico Torroba (1891-1982)
Niccolò Paganini (1782-1840)
Romance: from Grand Sonata
Manuel Ponce (1882-1948)
Chansons Populaires Mexicaines; No. 2
Chansons Populaires Mexicaines; No. 3
Enrique Granados (1867-1916)
Danse Espagnole No. 5 Andaluza
Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757)
Sonata in A minor, K. 481
Matteo Carcassi (1796-1853)
Etude, Opus 60, No. 3
Niccolò Paganini
Sonata Concertata for guitar and violin
Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805)
Quintet No.4 in D for guitar and string quartet
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968)
Concerto for two guitars, Op.201