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Realsamples English Harpsichord

Sample Library
Published April 2010
By Dave Stewart

In association with instrument collector Andreas Beurmann, Realsamples have created the Beurmann Edition, a set of eight sampled historic keyboards including spinet, celeste, three makes of harpsichord and some early pianos. These instruments are housed in Hamburg's Museum of Art and Craft, an establishment where the practice of hammering out 'Great Balls Of Fire' on antique spinets is generally frowned upon, particularly if the player incorporates Jerry Lee Lewis' trademark 'leg up on the keyboard' performance style. Thankfully, due to Realsamples' efforts, we can now play rock & roll classics on these priceless instruments without fear of being apprehended by security guards.


Each Beurmann Edition title contains Kontakt, EXS24 and Halion formats, with Giga versions also available. I auditioned the Kontakt version of English Harpsichord, which is a two‑manual, six‑register instrument built by Jacob Kirckman in 1766. The main, lower-manual 8' stop presents the harpsichord in all its steely magnificence. The attack is incisive and the tone is rich and resonant. The upper-manual counterpart sounds more mellow, with a less biting attack. When combined, the two stops sound big and stately, and when you add the 4' octave stop the timbre becomes impressively regal. It's a classic, strong and elegant harpsichord patch that will work equally well for 18th century historical drama soundtracks, 1960s TV themes and psychedelic pop pastiches.

The muted Lautenzug (lute) stop has an interesting, fretted‑instrument‑like sound, while the Nasalzug sounds like its name: pinched, nasal and wiry, a timbre you might want to employ for its thin, metallic attack in a composite keyboard patch. Realsamples' recording and programming approach is 100 per cent purist. There are no effects, no experimental layering, no creative sound design. Just plain, undiluted harpsichord, sounding much as it would have done nearly 250 years ago.

This is a great‑sounding, well‑recorded and potentially very playable instrument, but the review copy had some issues. First, the historic 'Valotti' tuning of A=368 used throughout makes the instrument approximately three semitones flat of concert pitch. Secondly, the original version of the library shipped with a missing low G# on all instruments. Realsamples explained that the note simply doesn't exist on the harpsichord, so they didn't map it. While I'm all for preserving historical accuracy, an out‑of‑tune instrument with a missing bass note isn't going to get much use in my studio.

Another problem in the original version was that all sample files of a certain pitch were named identically. That can, and did, cause problems when Kontakt did its annoying 'help, I can't find my samples' thing. Being a prize idiot, I inadvertently directed the sampler to the wrong folder and, because of the identical naming, the instrument loaded the wrong samples. Happily, Realsamples have fixed all these issues in an upgrade, which is available as a free download on request to people who bought the original. Dave Stewart

£125 Including VAT.

Time + Space +44 (0)1837 55200.

Published April 2010