Rating: **** 4/5 Stars
Created in collaboration with film/TV composer Samuel Sim, Spitfire Audio's British Drama Toolkit consists of eight solo string and woodwind instruments separately recorded from two mic positions in a purpose-built dry stage at Spitfire's HQ. The instrumentation comprises violin, viola, cello, double bass, flute, piccolo, clarinet and bass clarinet, presented in individual patches and in various programmed combinations.
BDT takes a different tack from Spitfire's other libraries: instead of the mod–wheel-controlled crossfading between layers, which is the norm in such collections, it uses keyboard velocity as the dynamic controller. This strikes me as a positive development: as well as bypassing the rigmarole of having to fiddle with the wheel before you can hear a patch in action, you can play with both hands and create complete-sounding music in one pass — bliss for keyboard players like myself.
Capitalising on this approach, the main patches incorporate three velocity-switched sustain layers: the softly played, subtly shifting 'texture'; 'soft' (a more conventional, full-bodied delivery); and 'loud', reserved for melodic top lines. Switching between them depends entirely on your strength of touch. The quieter layers feature long, subtly mobile articulations with occasional flashes of timbral mini-drama, such as lively re–bowing, bow ricochets or a hint of woodwind overblowing — though never overdone, this textural mobility maintains sonic interest and gives the library its character. Meanwhile, the top lines are played with an expressive, lyrical delayed vibrato.
Instruments are mapped across six octaves from C1 to C#7, with skilful sample blending ensuring a smooth ride across the entire range: a powerful, fruity-sounding double bass takes care of the bottom octave, bass clarinet and cello handle the low to middle register and viola, violin, clarinet, flute and piccolo kick in on higher notes. The bass clarinet makes its presence felt, adding a fabulous breathy layer to bass notes.
The main and ensemble patches contain some lovely stuff, with the nicely-played flute and piccolo creating a decidedly pastoral atmosphere and solo strings introducing a mournful, nostalgic quality. I enjoyed the tranquil, soft-toned clarinet ensemble (played with no vibrato and controlled volume swells), and recommend the 'string ensemble long' patch as a potential source of inspiration if you're writing a string quartet piece. String harmonics are a useful addition, with the cello's long harmonics sounding particularly haunting, and if you want to go more avant-garde, there are 'chatter' performances in which the clarinet and bass clarinet repeat notes in random rhythmic patterns.
You can use this colourful library on its own, or successfully layer it over bigger orchestral ensembles; its intimate chamber sound is instantly attractive, and the mobile textures lend a live feel. On the downside, its subtle, dreamy, somewhat languorous and mysterious nature precludes any overtl rhythmic use, but for composers, it's a great tool for melodic and harmonic exploration.