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Orchestral Explosion (Hall of Fame #79-78)

I've been surprised by how many pieces were new to me in this top 100 countdown so far. You hardly expect a Classic FM ranking to include obscure works. I suppose I'm even less familiar with classical music than I first thought.

I'd have to have lived under a boulder to not know the pieces in today's post though. At 79th place in the countdown is Tchaikovsky's music for the ballet The Sleeping Beauty, including a waltz so magical it even made it into the Disney film version of the story. I probably heard it there first as an inattentive seven year-old.

You'd think Tchaikovsky's melody was written with Disney in mind, the way it both creeps and sweeps to sparkling effect. I particularly enjoy the syncopation - parts where the melody moves in two-beat notes across three-beat bars.

The 78th ranked piece is similarly famous, but presents a huge difference in how the orchestra looks. The very well-produced video below shows the Academy of Ancient Music playing Handel's The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba from his Solomon Oratorio.

Yet another Historically Informed Performance, it features a much smaller ensemble playing archaic instruments. These include a half-lute-half-suspension-bridge called, apparently, a theorbo, but also harpsichord and pepper-pot oboes as we've seen in previously discussed works.

The Tchaikovsky video may not be as diligent when it comes to recreating the original sound, but it still highlights the significant orchestral expansion and changes in the 150-ish years between these two works. Only the string section seems relatively unchanged.

You've got to love a bit of Sheba. A lot of YouTube commenters think this one goes a touch too fast, but it's all according to taste, right? I enjoy the lively tempo. Perhaps it makes up for the lack of energy in other departments, i.e. brass and percussion.

To save you doing it yourself, here's some more regarding that theorbo. Imagine trying to get it home in the car though.

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