“A Little Slice Of Heaven” - Seventh Heaven, The latest in the Esoteric Records’ reissues of Anthony Phillips’ back catalogue reviewed by Alan Hewitt.

Where do you start with an album like this? Many of Ant’s fans, myself included, had wondered if he would ever venture back into the world of orchestral music again after the Tarka project. Thankfully, his encounter with Andrew Skeet was to give him the opportunity and the impetus to do just that and this album is the fruit of their collaboration.

We get under way with the operatic Credo In Cantus, a superb delight featuring the wonderful vocals of Lucy Crowe. This one really sets the tone for everything that is to follow, beautifully melodic and superbly orchestrated. With forty five tracks on this newly expended edition it simply isn’t possible to give each of them the space they so richly deserve, so I hope you will pardon me if I am somewhat selective. The next track, A Richer Earth is in credibly dynamic in its scope, I can imagine this as the opening music for one of those nature programmes that Sir David Attenborough still does so well, whilst Under The Infinite Sky, is suitably suspenseful and dramatic and would not be out of place in the likes of Midsummer Murders.

This is the main thrust of much of this music, it began life as library music which is always designed for specific moods, atmospheres and scenes and as such, is usually extremely visual. Several of the tracks on the first disc such as Desert Passage and Seven Ancient Wonders take us off on a travelogue to the desert skies and landscapes of the Middle East. Mysterious, evocative and thoroughly captivating, this is the combination of Phillips and Skeet at their very best, aided by the wonderful vocals of Joglaresa’s very own Belinda Sykes on the latter.

Disc Two gets off to a fine start with the instrumental version of Credo In Cantus before we revisit an older Ant sound in the shape of Sojourn and Nocturne which have that unmistakable Ant twelve string sound beautifully augmented by the superbly lush orchestrations of Andrew Skeet, this is simply the music of the gods as far as I am concerned.

The true heart of the album now as originally though, is Old Sarum Suite. I really don’t have enough superlatives to throw at this piece of superb music. This would be perfectly at home in the soundtracks to the likes of Game of Thrones and Lord Of The Rings, I love it beyond measure and my only criticism is that it is simply not long enough!

As usual with the Esoteric reissues, there is bonus material aplenty, and the third disc in this contains several other tracks from the same recording session which for reasons of space, were omitted from the original release. Like their counterparts on the other two discs, these are a joy to hear, and are equally at home within the canon of Ant’s work. An extra highlight is the inclusion of the track where it all began for Ant… the hymn he and Mike Rutherford wrote all those years ago: Take This Heart, and it is an absolute joy to hear it again after all this time.

There you have it, in Andrew Skeet, Ant has finally found someone who can bring out the very best in him. This is music of a truly timeless quality and it would ( and should ) find itself in the repertoire of any orchestra. A beautiful and masterful album and one which will bring you enjoyment on so many levels.

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Anthony Phillips/Andrew Skeet\: Seventh Heaven. Esoteric Records ECLEC 42657.