Rating: ***** 4.5/5 Stars
The first version of Oceania was arguably unparalleled at delivering epically intense, swashbuckling choral passages with the minimum of fuss. Its 48‑piece choir comprises Mens’ and Womens’ sections as separate instruments, each employing the same system of 10 cycling syllables; these advance from one to the next when playing in a détaché style. Keyswitches can also override the preset sequence manually to select specific syllables. The results are astonishingly realistic, and definitely not for the faint hearted.
Oceania II is not an upgrade, but a newly recorded library with additional features. Its remit is exactly the same: full‑on Mens’ and Womens’ performances delivered with gusto at ff and with molto vibrato, but this time with a 100‑piece choir and a larger collection of 12 syllables, plus separate Risers and Whispers patches. The two versions are a close tonal match, with Oceania II sounding noticeably ‘bulkier’ and warmer, especially noticeable on the Close mics. The ranges of Oceania II’s Men and Women are now extended to encompass D2 ‑ D5 for the Men (where Middle C = C3) and D3 ‑ D6 for the Women.
In a surprising departure from Performance Samples’ one‑screen GUIs, Oceania II has three. ‘M’ is the standard Main GUI, offering Close and Decca mic settings, dynamics CC control and Keyswitch root note assignments. Screen ‘B’ introduces slider controls for accurately balancing the relative levels of the high and low registers, which is essential for bringing low notes to the fore; a very useful Makeup gain knob compensates for any resultant reduction in overall volume. The range of MIDI CC dynamics can also be compressed or expanded, so if, for example, you prefer your mod wheel dynamics to go right down to zero, you can now do that. Screen ‘S’ enables you to customise the automatic cycling sequence of syllables; any number up to 12 can be specified in whatever order you wish; keyswitches can be used to reset the cycle to any point within it.
The 8va/Normal/8vb buttons of the original Oceania are no longer present. These enabled easy octave up/down transposition of Men or Women relative to each other. This can still be done, but requires navigating to the instrument settings in Edit mode. Unfortunately this has the unwanted consequence of chopping off the Mens’ top octave when transposing them down. This is a shame. Hopefully Performance Samples will consider reinstating the old method.
Also missing is Oceania’s useful trick of manual control over release times via the pitch bender. This was an extremely effective method of tightening staccatos or adding extra ‘glue’ to phrases that could be triggered on a whim. Oceania II does have two predetermined release times based on the speed of playing, but I do feel the original method was superior.
Oceania produced results that were never anything but thrilling, and there’s no reason to suspect Oceania II will thrill any less. But please bring back the octave transposing switches and pitch‑bender release time control!