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Richard Hills came up through the conventional classical organ scholar route (Exeter College, Oxford and Westminster Abbey), but at the age of 14 his alternative skills won him the American Theatre Organ Society’s international young organist prize; he now enjoys a dual career in the classical and theatre organ genres. To this Southampton Guildhall 75th anniversary release Hills brings a formidable keyboard technique, acute ear for colour and highly nuanced musicianship in a programme which fully exploits the supreme quality of the pipework and effects mechanisms in John Compton’s original and recently refurbished twin-console civic organ. Classical is served by Hollins’s Concert Overture in C, Harris’s A Fancy, Brewer’s Marche héroïque and a notably poignant performance of Thalben-Ball’s Elegy. Orchestral horns, strings and percussion are unleashed to vivid effect in a procession of highly inventive suites, including Frederic Curzon’s In Malaga, a Mikado medley and a grandly witty selection from Ivor Novello’s The Dancing Years; birds twitter and dandies swagger in Eric Coates’s Bird Songs at Eventide and Knightsbridge; and Southampton’s sometime civic variety organist Reginald Porter-Brown is commemorated in the flying fingers of Cheeky Chappie. In this hugely entertaining, demonstration quality recording, Hills could hardly do more to promote the richly expressive possibilities of an organ which brings music and style from a bygone era alive for a 21st-century audience – I cannot recommend it too highly.

GRAEME KAY Read the full review on Agora Classica

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