It is widely agreed that French guitarist Ida Presti (1924–1967) was one of the greatest players of the 20th century. A child prodigy who gave her first public recital when she was just 8, Presti studied in Paris under Mario Maccaferi for two years, and by her mid-teen years she was something of a national sensation in France, playing prestigious events and impressing audiences whenever she played. In 1948 she played the French premiere of Joaquín Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez and three years later she met her future husband, a Greek/Italian classical guitarist named Alexandre Lagoya. Within two years they had married and started playing as the Presti-Lagoya guitar duo. They enjoyed enormous popularity in France and elsewhere and also recorded many records together—all of them still regarded as classics. Presti and Lagoya helped popularize the guitar duo configuration, and because of their success and skill they attracted numerous composers to write pieces for them, including Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Rodrigo. It’s fair to say that nearly every duo that plays today owes something to Presti-Lagoya, whether they know it or not. Sadly, in 1967, just 14 years into their musical partnership, Presti died of an internal hemorrhage at the age of 43. After a period of mourning which lasted a few years, Lagoya dove back into performing, recording, and teaching, enjoying great success until his death in 1999.
Besides being a tremendous guitarist, Presti was also a fine composer, as this piece, published in 1959 and played here by the excellent Italian guitarist Cinzia Milani, shows. (Presti’s wonderful composition Segovia appeared on Roberto Moronn Perez’s 2014 recording Andrés Segovia Archive: French Composers.) There are a number of Presti-Lagoya compilations available, including this one, which also includes some solo tracks by each. We should note, too, that Milani herself was a prodigy, won many guitar competitions through the years, and is also a violinist who has played with orchestras in Italy, Spain and France. What I didn’t know until I started work on this post is that Milani’s latest album, on Brilliant Classics, is called A Tribute to Ida Presti, and the opening track is Danse rhythmique! I look forward to checking that out and writing about it soon. —Blair Jackson