Spitfire’s new symphonic double‑bill combines two complete orchestras and a host of extras.
Most orchestral sample companies have a favourite recording location. Orchestral Tools return time and again to Berlin’s Teldex Studio, Cinesamples regularly book the Sony/MGM Scoring Stage in LA, Sonokinetic travel to the ultra‑modern concert hall in Zlin, Czech Republic, while Strezov Sampling and Red Room Audio favour Sofia Session Studio in Bulgaria. Others such as EastWest and Vienna Symphonic Library are fortunate to own their own large recording spaces, thus avoiding rental and equipment costs (though of course the players’ session fees remain a consideration!)
For Spitfire Audio the location of choice was invariably AIR Studios Lyndhurst Hall, site of countless Spitfire sampling sessions since 2008. Recent years have seen something of a sea change, with the company branching out into Abbey Road and BBC Maida Vale. Though all three studios are conveniently close to their London HQ, Spitfire’s latest project actually took place 400 miles to the north in what may yet become an independent country. I refer to the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, built in 1990 and home to Scotland’s national orchestra. This impressive premises contains a magnificent 2475‑capacity main auditorium and also houses the 2015 New Auditorium, a 600‑seater space that provides rehearsal, recording and chamber performing facilities for the orchestra.
Why this exodus from the capital? Spitfire co‑founder Paul Thomson explains: “It was Christian Henson’s idea. Members of the team had previously recorded in the New Auditorium on solo music projects and were aware of its proximity to the larger Royal Concert Hall, as well as its shared infrastructure. When a project requiring multiple locations was needed the unique capabilities of this location quickly came to mind.”
Since Spitfire have long promoted chamber‑sized groups as an alternative to their large symphonic collections, the idea of combining both in one package would have been irresistible. The juxtaposition of the two auditoriums made it possible to sample a 111‑piece symphony orchestra in the large concert hall and 42 of the same players in the nearby smaller space, thus offering buyers two orchestras for the price of one. The two groups were recorded using identical microphones and equipment, thus providing overall continuity and unprecedented opportunities for blending and crossfading the two orchestras (more on which later).
In addition to symphonic and chamber strings, brass, woodwind and percussion, Albion Colossus contains an acoustic drum kit, heavy djent guitars and analogue synths programmed by US musician Joseph Holiday (who operates under the moniker Snakes Of Russia). Maintaining the Albion sound‑design tradition, Mr Holiday also performed transformative treatments on the drum kit, giving the library the cutting‑edge, tech‑driven feel required for modern action‑film soundtracks.
Spitfire’s new baby is the first Albion title to be hosted in its own dedicated plug‑in, the visual aspect of which first appeared in their 2018 Eric Whitacre Choir library. While it’s increasingly common for companies to use proprietary player formats, a vocal minority of users continue to clamour for a Kontakt version. Personally I’m not bothered either way, but I can’t see that happening. One consolation for the Kontakt‑bereaved might be that Spitfire’s Colossus plug‑in is free when you buy the library.
Albion Colossus is a 110GB download and requires a 64‑bit DAW or host (32‑bit DAWs are not supported). The minimum system specs are 2.8GHz (quad‑core) and 8GB of RAM. Spitfire’s plug‑in doesn’t support multitimbral use, so you can’t open multiple instruments within a single instance, however you can switch between or layer a single instrument’s various articulation presets inside the player.
The library’s string ensembles don’t conform to orchestral norms. As the name suggests, the accent is on low‑end power, so while the symphonic high strings feature a fairly standard 30 violins and 12 violas, the low strings line‑up, with a stonking 12 cellos and 10 basses, guarantees an abundance of bass grunt.
The grunt factor is particularly evident in the low strings’ energetic jeté style (which produces a terrific resonant thump in the bass register) and viciously percussive Bartok ‘snap’ pizzicatos. In a less combative vein, the unison cellos and basses’ beautifully in‑tune, elegant‑sounding legatos will bring alive your low strings melodies. In the high register, blended violins and violas turn in some excellent breathy sul tasto performances, a fabulous texture for chord pads.
As you’d imagine, the strings’ emphatic spiccato and staccato short notes are tailor‑made for cinematic action scores. Unusually, they default to mod‑wheel dynamic control, but you can switch to velocity control if you prefer. Other common playing styles include tremolo, pizzicato, sul ponticello, flautando, sul tasto and col legno. Overall the strings are powerful and imposingly grand‑sounding, but the minimal vibrato used on their long notes gives them a somewhat austere atmosphere. If you’re looking for orchestral lushness, you’ll find some in the dramatic cresc‑dim ‘hairpin’ performances, which introduce a strong expressive vibrato as they surge in volume....
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