Michiel Post, the man behind Post Musical Instruments, knows a thing or two about sampling pianos — his Grandioso Steinway Model D (reviewed in SOS October 2002) was a meticulous and musical recreation of this highly regarded instrument. He's now created a second Grandioso library, taking a similarly thorough approach to capturing every nuance of a Bösendorfer Imperial 290 concert grand piano. Pianos are probably the most difficult instruments to sample, and the 97-note Bösendorfer 290 represents a particular challenge, since it's a large beast and has a reputation for possessing a dynamic range the size of China.
Grandioso 290 comes in an attractive Digipac with a 16-page booklet that offers detailed information about the piano, the Giga Instrument and the recording techniques employed. The single CD-ROM supplied belies the 2GB of hard disk space it takes up. Installation itself is a simple matter of running the self-extracting Windows RAR archive.
A total of 16 pedal up and pedal down layers were recorded, and separate Instruments programmed with 16, eight and four layers are provided. The pianissimo layers are nothing short of beautiful, with the upper registers sounding especially delicate, while the fortissimo layers sound with a real sense of intent — the lower registers are particularly thunderous and richer than the annual output of a truffle factory. The response between the layers is totally transparent and natural on the 16 and eight-layer Instruments, and the only reason you might notice the transitions on the four-layer versions is because the Instruments with a greater number of layers are just so good!
The Bösendorfer 290 was recorded using both close and distant stereo miking techniques from the side of the piano, with an A-B stereo pair placed where the audience might normally be to give a very ambient sound, and an X-Y pair in front of the piano to provide a more intimate tone. Unlike the Grandioso Model D, both sets of samples are provided in the same Giga file; and while there are separate Wet and Dry Instruments to choose from, some Instruments allow you to use the modulation wheel to set the balance between the two sets of samples. To be able to crossfade between different mic setups in this way gives you exceptional, immediate control over the sound, and you might find that you don't need to add any additional reverb.
In order to truly convey a realistic ambience, Grandioso 290 also includes release samples, which have a particularly strong character on the Wet samples as you might expect. These samples really do add a great degree of realism to both legato and staccato playing.
If Grandioso 290 had stopped there (what else can one expect from a piano library, after all?), I'd still have been seriously impressed — but there's more. When reviewing the Grandioso Model D, I mentioned that a special software tool was being developed to give it the ability to crossfade between pedal up and down samples when the pedal was used. This Grandioso FX utility has now become available to download for use with either the Grandioso Model D or 290, and Post Musical Instruments have also used it as the vehicle for many other enhancements. One factor that's over looked by most piano sample libraries is that the pedals themselves make a noise on a real piano, so the Grandioso 290 includes separate pedal noise samples that come to life when Grandioso FX is used. If this sounds rather abhorrent, Grandioso FX provides a pedal noise volume slider so you can set an appropriate level or turn it off altogether. Personally, I really liked this feature and, used at a subtle low level, it adds an almost supernatural sense of realism to your performance.
Another pedal-related trick performed by Grandioso FX solves a problem pointed out by Giga aficionado and Prorec editor Bruce Richardson, where the appropriate release samples aren't triggered correctly when you take your foot off the sustain pedal after playing some notes. Grandioso FX simply ensures that the corresponding release samples are triggered. Finally, in order to overcome Gigastudio's limitation of 32 dimensions, which would normally leave no room for release samples in an Instrument containing 16 layers of both pedal up and down samples, Grandioso FX employs a special technique allowing a furher eight layers of release samples to be used.
Overall, the effects of Grandioso FX can be quite subtle (except for the pedal noise), although they do contribute to a more natural piano experience when comparing performances, as opposed to just individual notes. The only slight down side is that setting everything up isn't quite as obvious as you might like (the process includes performing Articulation file updates, installing software and so on), and a clearer set of instructions would perhaps be more helpful.
As a musical instrument Grandioso 290 really is a complete joy to play: the programming is first-rate, and the attention to detail is almost unparalleled. Serious pianists will probably get more out of this library than those who simply need a 'quick fix' piano sound, although the Bösendorfer 290's sonic qualities should make it appeal to a wide range of musicians for western art, jazz and some rock styles. If you're in need of a serious all-round Giga piano, I wouldn't hesitate in recommending it — in fact, I'm just pleased to have finished this review so I can go back and play with it some more.
Giga CD-ROM $245.
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