Rating: **** 4/5 Stars
As a follow-up to our exploration of Strezov Sampling's charming Mountain Girl VST, we're going to take a deep-dive into their massive multi-instrument release the Jade Ethnic Orchestra. This compelling effort combines the sound of Mongolian and Chinese ethnic instruments — performed by regional musicians — into a collection of 50 instruments and over 100 individual patches.
The simple and functional interface leads with three mixable mic positions (close, Decca, Hall) along with legato and reverb controls, and users can further tweak by clicking on the gear icon. Beginning in the Bowed String Ensemble folder, we find instruments such as the evocative Bass Morin Khuur Ensemble, the Erhu and Zhongu ensembles (with separate patches for pizz), sustain patches for two different Erhu ensembles (including two different lush legato patches), various articulations from a Zhongu ensemble, as well as a small but useful instrument with modernist effects from the Erhu ensemble. The similarly organised Bowed Strings Solo folder is one of the highlights of this diverse package, and includes numerous articulation-specific patches for Banhu, Bass Morin, Dan Nhi, several iterations of the Erhu, and others. Dynamics are controlled via the mod wheel, and recorded in their traditional hall position for the Chinese Orchestra where appropriate. It is fascinating to substitute a Chinese Orchestra string section for western strings, or to mix the two types of ensembles into a compelling hybrid ensemble.
The diversity of approach in this collection becomes apparent in the Pads folder, which contains only a single instrument which gives access to over 20 ensemble-orchestrated pads and atmospheres. The rich and detail-laden pads dovetail tastefully, allowing for easy layering and transition, and also provide a great starting point for new compositions.
The percussion folder also contains a single customisable instrument. Users can lay in everything from various-sized drums to pitched Chinese opera gongs over a 12-zone keyboard, with adjustable pitch, sustain and attack distance for each zone. The plucked strings folder contains Strezov's collection of solo and ensemble instruments, including that crossover favourite, the Pipa. The Winds folder contains solo Dizi, Hulusi, Shakuhachi, Suona, Wind Chuur and Xiago instruments whose quality matches the rest of the package. We should offer a quick word on legato: it ranges from average to excellent, with results which are dependent on the actual idiomatic capabilities of the instruments in question.
While it is hard to pick a true highlight, perhaps the most innovative instruments of the collection can be found in the Voices menu. Some of the instruments — such as the Hoomai Men Legato patch — have a toggle keyswitch between standard legato and different styles of overtone singing; this joyful little touch is worth the price of entry alone. Others include a basic syllabic word builder for added ensemble realism.
The overall aesthetic of the package is stark and immediate, with (by western standards) pitch imperfections left uncorrected. Here Strezov deliver the pathos and excitement of an immense cultural region for a reasonable €479 price tag. (Owners of the Balkan Orchestra VST can save with the crossgrade option). Highly recommended!