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Kirk Hunter's The Virtuoso Series

Sample CD Buyer's Guide By Dave Stewart
Published January 2000

Rating: ****** 6/6 Stars

Overall Comments: Dissatisfied (for both budgetary and musical reasons) with the existing string libraries, composer/violinist Kirk Hunter decided to go boldly forth and create his own. The sleeve notes boast of Herculean effort, substantial investment, musical passion, ground‑breaking innovation and so forth, but a little self‑congratulation can be forgiven, as the end result is impressive. Note that in the Akai version at least, the programs within a volume are numbered identically, but assigned to different MIDI channels (the usual convention is to put the all programs on the same MIDI channel, but give them different numbers so they don't all play at once!). I guess the idea here is to enable players to change program simply by changing the MIDI transmit channel on their keyboards.

Disc 1: Violins

24 Vns: sus nv (mp), sus vb (ff, f & mp), sus mut, marc, att + short note (f <3> & mf <3>), trem, piz, trll <2>, slide up to sus note, semitone slide down, quick major scale run up to note from 4th below.

8 Vns (see quibble below): sus vb (f), att (f), sus open strings, octave run up to short note.

2 Vns: sus vb (f), att (f).

Vn (M): sus vb (f) <2>.

Disc Comments: Miroslav Vitous has 23 violinists, Kirk Hunter boasts 24 — must be inflation. These violins are characterised by a strong, emotional vibrato — even the 'no vibrato' performances have a trace of it. Overall, the tuning is good and the loops perfectly smooth.

Standouts: There is a lot to commend. The sustained vibrato violin section play with real passion, and produce a full, lush and clear sound — if you seek the Holy Grail of the Perfect String Sound, this is as realistic a sampled violin section as I've heard. Emulate that scary Psycho soundtrack with high‑pitched violin slides up — eek! eek! eek! eek! A 4‑way velocity split (called '24VN 16TH') between loud/quiet up & down bow strokes is great for rhythmic lines. The pizzicato violins are bright and sweet, and their natural‑sounding ambience is a joy.

Quibbles: The tuning of the whole‑tone trills is a little inaccurate. For some reason, the nominal '8 violins' sound strangely similar to the 24 violins; the trills, slides, marcato, hard attack and 'expressive' programs are virtually identical, and the program called '8 Violins pizz' actually uses the 24 violins pizzicato samples.

Disc 2: Violas, Cellos & Double Basses

16 Vas: sus (f), marc, att (f), piz, trem, trll <2>, slide up to sus note.

10 Vcs: sus (ff & f), att (f), att + short note (f <2> & mf <2>), piz, trem, trll <2>, slide up to sus note.

6 Vcs: sus (ff), att (ff).

2 Vas, 2 Vcs: sus (f), att (f).

Va, Vc (both M): sus (f) <2>.

5 Dbs: sus oct (ff & f), att (f), piz.

Comments: The low strings are well represented here, the Kirk Hunter trademark pronounced vibrato ensuring a good match with the violins.

Standouts: Violas and cellos are very good. The '16 violas' share the violins' lush sound, but I also enjoyed the clarity and presence of the two violas. The cello attacks come with the highly effective loud/quiet up/down bow strokes already mentioned, so you can have hours of fun composing fast contrapuntal lines with violins in the right hand and cellos in the left.

Quibble: The double basses are a little disappointing — though playing in octaves gives a strong and characteristic 'orchestral' sound, unison samples are much more musically flexible (in fact, it would be better to use cellos to play the higher octave). Although very useable, the pizzicatos here are not quite so wonderful as those on Disc 1; there is one bad note in the cellos and a slightly untidy performance from the basses. Overall, I could have used more quiet samples.

Disc 3: String Combinations

Comments: The samples are all culled from Discs 1 & 2, but a host of new programs offer useful combinations of sounds (saves you hours of programming, believe me).

Contact: Time & Space.

£ Akai/Roland/Emu EOS/Kurzweil/Samplecell Mac CD‑ROMs (3‑disc set) £730.