The recorder is an odd instrument: most of us have played it, yet it rarely appears in sample libraries. VSL have set out to remedy that by sampling four instruments of the recorder family. All were performed by Austrian flute and recorder virtuoso Leopold Eibl in VSL's Silent Stage, ensuring a precise, intimate acoustic which matches that of the Vienna orchestral collections.
Often played by school children, the small descant instrument should be immediately familiar, while those who graduated beyond the entry-level model will recognise the sound of the lower-pitched treble recorder. (In this library the two are given their European names of Soprano and Alto.) Being too big for little fingers, you're unlikely to find a tenor or great bass recorder in a British school, but they're commonplace in recorder performing ensembles.
While Mr Eibl's smooth, accomplished delivery avoids the deafening, shrieky squeaks one expects from under-age performers, the shrill upper register of the soprano recorder must still be handled with care. Its piercing high notes can slice cheese at a hundred paces, but its ability to cut through a dense arrangement with piccolo-like darting runs or high-pitched stabs is unsurpassed. It's also a very satisfactory substitute for a military fife, should you ever need to create a marching band arrangement.
By contrast, the plaintive low range of the soprano is sweet, piping and child-like, evoking innocence and nostalgia — the classic recorder sound. The alto instrument sounds equally lyrical, and its lovely even, mellow singing tone should cover most melodic needs. When coupled with VSL's creamy legato style, it's a delight to play. Slightly softer-toned and breathier, the tenor model reminded me of an Irish low whistle; in fact, it can do a good imitation of an ethnic flute, particularly if you use the quicksilver 'performance trill' articulation to play folk-style grace notes and ornaments.
You wouldn't use the stately great bass recorder for fast lines, but its deep, rather mournful bottom register (which descends an octave below middle C) provides a terrific foundation to four-part recorder arrangements. All instruments were performed with and without vibrato and include staccato repetition round robins; the first three also play crescendos and diminuendos in a choice of durations. There are no phrases or licks.
Since the recorder dates from the 14th century, this library will sound authentic in soundtracks for productions with a late-medieval or period fantasy theme, such as Robin Hood Vs Predator or I'm A Tudor... Get Me Out of Here! However, the sound of these instruments is so universally appealing, I feel their creative potential goes well beyond quasi-historical musical wallpaper.
Beautifully performed, perfectly programmed and offering a generous menu of articulations, this fabulous 2.17GB collection runs on the free Vienna Instruments player, has one standard edition and is available as a download only.