Overall Comments: The Advanced Orchestra set contains the most performance variations of any of the discs reviewed here, and the presentation and documentation is very clear and sensible. The samples were originally played (somewhat unhelpfully) with reference to the European tuning standard of A = 443, so you'll need to do some careful retuning if you buy the audio CD versions! All solo instruments (with the exception of the sus ff & pp solo violin) are unlooped on the CD‑ROMs, though in the main the samples are of sufficient length for this not to be a problem. The ensembles' loops are excellent, and for this reason alone, I would advise buying the ROM versions of Volumes 1, 3 and 4 if you can afford them. In this illiterate age of machine worship, Peter Siedlaczek should be applauded for the well‑written, informative booklet on the basics of orchestration which accompanies this library.
Volume 1: String Ensemble Rating: ***** 5/6
14 Vns: sus (ff & pp), sus mut, sus cr, det <2>, piz <2>, trem (ff & pp), trem cr, trll <2>, col <2>, gls up (slow & fast), ascending & descending gr (tone & semitone), stc chords/'broken' (octave jump) major/minor/diminished chords/arps (approx. 135‑150 bpm), fast ascending major & minor scales.
10 Vas, same as Vns, plus: extra version of stc chords. Minus: ascending scales.
8 Vcs, same as Vns minus: col <2>, gr.
6 Dbs: sus (ff & pp), sus cr, det <2>, piz <2>, trem (ff & pp), trem cr, gls up (slow & fast).
Disc Comments: The orchestra's individual string sections, nicely played, with a whole host of useful performance variations.
Standouts: Grace notes and controlled glissandi are an asset not to be found elsewhere. The muted (con sordino) violins have a lovely expressive quality, all the detaché sounds work well for melody lines, and it's good to hear some real crescendos.
Quibbles: The gap between the ff and pp dynamics of the sustained sounds is arguably too wide, resulting in too great a contrast in timbre. The loud sustained cellos' C2 note contains more than a trace of C1, and the room decay of the pizzicato basses seems unnecessarily truncated.
Volume 2: Solo Strings Rating: ***** 5/6
Vn, same as Vns plus: extra (unlooped) version of sus f. Minus: sus cr, col, trem cr. Fast ascending scales double as major and minor.
Va, same as Vns, plus: two extra versions of sus ff, sus pp & sus mt. Minus: sus cr, trem cr, col.
Vc as Vns, plus: extra version of sus ff, substitute stc <2> for det <2>. Minus: ascending scales.
Disc Comments: I don't wish to be irreverent, but the solo violin grace notes sound very amusing if you play all four programs at once. Use these in your next 'Tom & Jerry'‑style cartoon soundtrack.
Quibbles: As with the string ensembles, there is too big a jump from the solo violin's rather tentative pp (played with no vibrato) to its biting ff (played with heavy vibrato). The gap can be bridged to some extent by using the muted con sordino version. In such a complete set, I was surprised to find no solo double bass.
Volume 3: Woodwinds Rating: ****** 6/6
3 Flts: sus (f & p), sus cr, stc <2>, ft, gr <4>, trll <2>, trn <2>, fast ascending 4‑note 'pickup' phrases, fast ascending/descending scales (major, minor & chromatic).
Flt (M), same as 3 Flts above, plus: mor <4>. Minus: chromatic scales, desc. minor scale.
Pic (M): stc <2>, tr <2>, gr <4 x 2>, mor <4 x 2>, 'pickup' phrases, fast ascending/descending scales (major & minor).
Aflt (M): sus, stc <2>, ft.
Cla (M): sus (f & p), sus cr, stc <2>, ft, gr <4 x 2>, trll <2>, mor <4 x 2>, trn <2 x 2>, gls up, 'pickup' phrases, fast ascending/descending major & minor scales
3 Clas, same as Cla, except: gr =<4>, scales are played in octaves.
Bcla (M): sus (f & p), sus cr, stc <2>, ft, gr <4 x 2>.
Ob (M): sus (f & p), sus vb, stc <2>, gr <4 x 2>, trll <2>, mor <4 x 2>, fast ascending scales (major & minor).
Ehn (M): sus (f & p), stc <2>, tr <2>, gr <4 x 2>.
Bsn (M): sus, sus vb, stc <2>, gr <4>.
Cbsn (M): sus, stc <2>, ft, gr <4>.
Disc Comments: This is the only single CD to offer all the main orchestral woodwinds in ensemble and solo form (although the latter are mono and unlooped). An invaluable aid to any composer wishing to try out arrangements.
Standouts: A sumptuous alto flute, crying out to be accompanied by the clarinet trio's haunting, quiet long notes. Great sounds!
Quibbles: No sustained piccolo. The 3 flutes sustained (f & p) programs are badly out of tune, but this is acknowledged and corrected in the Advanced Orchestra Upgrade '97 disc set (see below). The booklet also confusingly prints a large chunk of information twice — better than not printing it at all, I suppose!
Volume 4: Brass & Effects Rating: ****** 6/6
3 Tpts: sus (ff & pp), sus cr, stc <2>, ft, fast gls down, trip.
3 Tbns: sus (ff & pp), sus mt, sus cr, stc <2>, ft, tr, short gls up, short gls down.
4 Fhns: sus (ff & pp), sus cr, stc <2>, ft cr, double gls up (octave), oct gls <2>, gls up mut, trip.
Tpt (M): sus (f & p), sus mut, sus cr, 'mouthpiece' (= sus with comedy vibrato), stc <2>, stc mut <2>, ft cr, gr <4>, tr <2>, mor <4>, fast & slow gls down <2>, gls down mut, valve flutter (= fast reiterated note), valve flutter mut, pickup phrase, trip.
Ptp (M): sus (f), st <2>, gr <4 x 2>, tr <2>, mor <4 x 2>.
Tbn (M): sus (f & p), sus cr, stc <2>, stc (f & pp) <2>, fast oct gls up, fast minor 3rd slide up, slow slide up, slow slide down.
Fhn (M): sus (f & p), stc <2>, ft cr, tr, glis up, trip.
Tba (M): sus (f & p), stc <2>, ft.
In addition, there is a large array of misc. unpitched, atonal or random pitched noises played by ensembles & solo instruments. Contributions from the Strings include scrapes, fast gls down, short chords, col, and unpitched bow hit noise. The Woodwinds offer breath effects, high‑pitched whistling, stc gls up (random pitches), short & stc chords & noises, and the Brass pitch in with (amongst others) stc mouthpiece noises, ft gls down, stc honks, flatulent lip sounds, fast & slow glis up, squeal gls down, and animal noises.
Disc Comments: Orchestral brass players are known to like a drink, and alcohol may have been taken before recording some of the daft noises in the Effects section. However, the rest of the performances, especially the loud trumpet and trombone ensembles, are spot‑on, with confident pitching and delivery.
Quibbles: No bass trombone — now there's a sobering thought.
Volume 5: Percussion & Harp Rating: ****** 6/6
PERCUSSION — TUNED
Glk, Mba, Thai gongs, Tmp, Tub, Xyl, Vib.
PERCUSSION — UNPITCHED
BD, Chg, CrC, Gng, SD, Tri.
Major & minor chords, gls & arps: (major, minor, diminished, pentatonic, whole‑tone).
Disc Comments: A very decent orchestral percussion collection, intelligently recorded and programmed. Reviewing its sounds made me realise how far we've come since the early sample libraries, whose quality was variable to say the least! No such problems here — everything on this CD‑ROM sounds good. Of course, Siedlaczek & Vitous go head‑to‑head on this title — so which Czech gets the cheque? Well, the Vitous percussion disc has a greater variety of instruments and styles (and more of an overall 'concert hall' feel), but at three times the price; serious samplists with a big pocket book will find excellent, unique material on both.
Standouts: Excellent tubular bells, and tasty crescendo rolls on both cymbals and timps. I always enjoy hearing a marimba, but this is the first time I've come across marimba tremolos! Better still, someone has thoughtfully looped the samples.
Quibbles: No harp single notes, you have to get the Upgrade set (see below) for those.
Contact: Time & Space.
£ Akai/Emu/Roland/Nemesys Gigasampler 5 CD‑ROM set £599; Gigasampler String Set CD‑ROM £179; Akai/Emu/Roland/Gigasampler CD‑ROMs £149 per volume; audio CDs £59.95 per volume.