Performance Samples’ Caspian: Thematic Orchestral Brass comprises three .NKI patches: Six French Horns, Three Bass Trombones and Three Trumpets, performed by the Czechoslovakia-based Capellen Orchestra. Like their previous Oceania Choir library, it’s designed to be easy to use — and it is too, with the barest minimum of controls on the GUI. Each section’s patch provides Close, Decca tree and Wide mic positions, volume, pan, mute, solo and output routing for each mic, with dynamics controlled by the modwheel by default (this can be reassigned to any other MIDI CC). Surprisingly, there are no keyswitches or alternative articulations to select, and no legatos either. The patches are fully polyphonic, so all you have to do is load up and play.
You might think this limits the library’s usefulness, but it’s surprising how flexible Caspian can be. Long sustains, dynamic swells, triple-tonguing or snappy staccatos, these instruments seem happy to comply — you just have to play the right notes in the appropriate style. The key to this is what Performance Samples call ‘performance/repetition sampling’. Essentially, the attack and release portions are derived from actual performances; some crafty scripting under the hood manages to vary those elements in some way according to how you’re playing. The exact mechanics aren’t important, it just seems to work. Even without a legato script, flowing phrases connect in a musical way, as long as your notes butt together neatly.
The real reason for having this library, however, is the sound. As its subtitle suggests, Caspian’s forte is rip-roaring, swashbuckling Pirates Of The Caribbean meets Star Wars testosterone-fuelled exuberance. But that’s just one end of the scale. Caspian has an impressive dynamic range, crossfading smoothly through three dynamic layers (two for the Horns) from a mellifluous mezzo-piano to a sizzling fff. Especially majestic are the Bass Trombones; these have a truly commanding character, and tolerate low-pitched triads (a device frequently favoured in John Barry’s scores) without a trace of muddiness. Their fff dynamic is simply splendid, and cuts through the densest mix with a real impression of weight but without any low-frequency bloat. The Trumpets, too, are regal and Copeland-esque, with a penetrating top end at higher dynamics. The French Horns are big and warm; they carry a tune with confidence, and reproduce triple-tonguing in the John Williams style very effectively.
Performance Samples are surprisingly candid in pointing out some known issues: on loading, the release samples may be louder than the sustain samples — this is cured simply by wiggling the modwheel to align the volumes correctly. They also point out some noises, and ‘short dirty loops’ on some low-range material — you can hear this low down on the Bass Trombones. Frankly, it just seems to me to add more character. They also confess to an issue with CPU spikes when using Caspian in Logic, which can be avoided if Kontakt is hosted in Vienna Ensemble Pro; Performance Samples’ honesty about these points is quite laudable. The verdict: Caspian may be simple in its presentation, but it sounds fabulous.