Orchestral Tools’ Baroque collection shines a modern light on a historic sound.
The latest sample library from the prolific Orchestral Tools turns the clock back to an age when people addressed each other as ‘thou’, said ‘forsooth’ instead of ‘actually’ and bowed and curtseyed when greeting each other before obsessively checking their phones for Queen Anne’s latest TikTok post. Miroire is a collection of Baroque instruments and period‑flavoured voices designed to give authenticity to historical scores while also offering a unique and versatile alternative for contemporary orchestral tracks.
If you assumed a library of this sort would be primarily focused on recreating early music repertoire, you’d be wrong. Orchestral Tools’ Sascha Knorr explains, “Miroire wasn’t made to make MIDI performances of original Baroque music. Occasionally a production wants a MIDI rendition of a classical piece, and some people make classical mockups for a hobby, but in our opinion there are not enough of them to justify a commercial virtual instrument production of this scale.”
Our man continues, “We’re interested in the sound of those instruments and wanted to make it available for contemporary composers and productions. It’s a very multi‑layered orchestral sound which doesn’t blend in a big warm soup like a modern orchestra, but retains a certain transparency and charmingly underdeveloped tone with its own particular expressive capabilities. But because these days our ears are quite familiar with the timbre of Baroque instruments, you can also use these instruments to quickly evoke that period atmosphere.”
Miroire’s instrumentation comprises four violins, three violas, a ‘basso continuo’ section of two cellos, double bass and bassoon, five solo woodwinds, two solo horns and two solo trumpets. These instruments are built differently from today’s mass‑produced items — they use few mechanical parts, trumpets and horns have no valves, woodwinds are made from softer woods and the string instruments use gut strings with no metal content. Consequently, Miroire’s orchestra sounds quite different from a modern chamber ensemble, producing an overall warmer and more organic tone while retaining a powerful ensemble sound.
Also included are female and male choirs from the Vocalconsort Berlin (“bloody good singers” according to Sir Simon Rattle), who have been serving up performances of Baroque music since 2003. The instruments and voices were recorded in Berlin’s Teldex Studio using Orchestral Tools’ usual multiple mic positions, enabling you to seamlessly blend these samples with the company’s other libraries. Miroire runs exclusively on the proprietary Sine player and is 39.3GB installed.
Though we’re accustomed to strings and brass hogging the limelight in today’s orchestral music, for me the highlight of Miroire’s Baroque sound world is its solo woodwinds, all of which span a two‑octave chromatic range. The traverse flute’s childlike and innocent sound is a treat. You might mistake its simple, natural tone and plain vibrato‑free delivery for a recorder, but the characteristic breathy texture reveals its true identity. The instrument works well for legato melodies and piping short notes, and though its bottom few pitches sound a little fragile, the rest of the range is full‑bodied, with tight, precise staccatos and staccatissimos sounding great in the high register.
Performed by the same player, the alto recorder’s top notes are loud, bright and cutting. Its low notes are more reticent, but in between lies the classic sweet‑toned recorder sound we all know, complete with nice breathy note attacks. The accomplished young musician plays with precision, executing uncannily accurate ornaments and trills. His woodwind performances cover all of the library’s available articulations (see box below), which are implemented as consistently as possible for the other instruments and choirs.
Miroire’s three solo oboes are replicas of instruments made in the 1720s by famous makers in London and Leipzig. Though examples of such period instruments are still found in museums, I’d be very surprised if they sounded better than their modern remakes — these oboes sound fabulous, and are a standout feature of the library.
My favourite is the Baroque oboe, which has a lovely plaintive and friendly tone, bright without being piercing and somewhat softer and sweeter than a modern instrument. The slightly lower‑pitched Baroque oboe d’amore has a more enclosed tone, while the curved oboe da caccia (‘hunting oboe’) operates in the cor anglais range, producing an exotic, deep reedy sound with a hint of bassoon in the bottom notes. Beautifully and expressively played by Birgit Bahr, these oboes will enrich any arrangement.
Miroire’s historic brass instruments are very different from their modern counterparts — they have no keys or valves and lack the complex tubing of today’s instruments, so in real life can only play the natural harmonic series of their fundamental pedal note, with chromatic intervals available only in the high range. Consequently, Baroque brass players had to choose instruments in the appropriate key for the piece they were playing.
Orchestral Tools overcame these limitations by picking two differently tuned horns and trumpets and thanks to the marvels of modern science, were able to fill most of the pitch gaps by judiciously stretching adjoining samples. Two small blank key zones remain just above the instruments’ low pedal notes, but this has minimal impact on their usability.
Tuned respectively in F and D, the two Baroque horns sound tremendous playing heraldic fanfares, for which you can get impressively realistic results by keyswitching between different lengths of short note. The horns also do a great job blasting out loud, brassy hunting‑horn phrases, with a quiet dynamic available for crescendo building and post‑hunt chillout music. A pair of brilliant‑toned ‘natural trumpets’ in the keys of C and D can also dish up excellent loud fanfare‑like figures and more tranquil quiet deliveries, and blend superbly with the horns in four‑part brass arrangements.
While Miroire’s oboes are faithful replicas of Baroque period designs, its string instruments are genuinely historic. Sarina Zickgraf’s German‑made viola dates from 1820, Daniel Dragonov’s Gagliano violin from 50 years earlier, Lea Rahel Bader’s cello was made in 1730 and the double bass played by Christoph Annaker is 300 years old! The use of gut strings, period bows with fewer hairs, the absence of vibrato and a smaller dynamic range distances these instruments from their modern counterparts. When compared with a similar‑sized section in OT’s Berlin Strings, the Baroque violins sound tougher and more wiry, and lack the smooth texture and metallic bow attack of the modern section.
The viola ensemble’s soft sustains artic is the nearest this library gets to sounding lush, a pleasant, warm and inviting timbre which works well for chordal accompaniment and expressive legato lines. Legato patches can be switched between fingered and a more articulated bow change style; the portato legato patch adds expression to quick passing notes, and you can add accents to flowing melodic passages by applying legato transitions to the marcato articulation. A full set of short‑note styles is also available for fast arpeggios and cinematic ostinatos, for which these strings’ robust period timbre works extremely well.
Providing a muscular low‑end foundation for the high strings is the splendid basso continuo section, comprising two cellos and a bassoon playing in unison with double bass an octave below. We’ve heard low octave strings before, but the addition of the low wind instrument creates a fabulous and striking big bass noise with the weight and grandeur of pipe organ pedals — one of Miroire’s standout sounds. The cellos, bassoon and double bass each have their own spot mic and there’s a fair degree of separation between them, so you can drastically alter the section’s instrumental balance.