NORTH CANTON, Ohio, March 19, 2017 – Once again our favorite British sample company, Spitfire Audio, has put the composer first, creating yet another gem of a virtual instrument. The now complete Sacconi Strings package fills a great need in the digital sampling world, bringing a versatile, dedicated string quartet library to your fingertips. The end result is another deeply considered, well designed, and aesthetically inspiring effort.
Spitfire’s mastermind Christian Henson recorded his quartet samples over four individual sessions – spread over four years – in London’s prestigious Wigmore Hall. True to aesthetic form, the sounds themselves range from dark and moody to crisp and bright, perhaps channeling something of the spacey moodiness and simultaneous immediate presence of classic Manfred Eicher recordings.
The Sacconi Strings package is split into individual patches for all four members of the ensemble. These include a dedicated second violin to help avoid the doubling and phasing issues otherwise present in many such mock-ups while adding real depth to ensemble efforts.
It is clear that the philosophy driving this package was to sample a true quartet as opposed to four instruments that could later be mixed together. It must also be noted that the individual instruments themselves offer spectacular quality, functioning just as well in solo settings as in the quartet arrangement, even if they are purposefully designed for ensemble work as opposed to “singing out” in a large ensemble soloistic style.
The samples themselves are mapped with classic keyswitches, though Spitfire also provides useful “playable” patches, which ably estimate the necessary articulations (shorts, longs, and runs) based on MIDI input.
So too with the great ensemble patches, which place the entire quartet in the span of a single keyboard. Furthermore there are six selectable microphone settings allowing composers to instantly balance their sound between close microphones, a decca tree, a classic stereo configuration, outrigger and ambient mics. For those seeking a quicker route, the basic display allows one to move mic settings on a spectrum between “near” and “far” settings.
The most effective way to engage the package in a notation mock-up or DAW (digital audio workstation) setting is to use the “individual” packages. Figure 1 below shows a screenshot from this configuration, with the top instrument being in “simple” mode (allowing a basic near/far microphone configuration), and the bottom instrument being in advanced mode (allowing tweaking of, among other things, the six microphone selections, round robin depth, and how memory handles samples.) As always, there are the MIDI controlled settings for loudness, vibrato depth (non vib to molto), release, and expression (volume).
The following YouTube video demonstrates a number of the package’s sound options. Expression was controlled via continuous MIDI CC changes (attached to lines above the staff and visible as gray blobs of information), while keyswitches were manually placed onto the staff. These indications have been left visible along with added markings delineating various techniques, in order to demonstrate what would be necessary to completely engage this package in Sibelius. (Dorico users can assign the keyswitches to trigger with musical text indications in the “expression maps” feature.)
Perhaps the only thing missing in this package is a true fortissimo, “fur is flying,” downbow attack, the kind of articulation that would make Shostakovich proud. Otherwise Spitfire not only manages to fill a glaring gap in the sample market, but also do so with the typical artistic and professional integrity that will make this package hard to beat in the future.
While Spitfire is a bit pricey at $519.00 (with generous student and educator discounts available), this is a tempting purchase that matches its ample functionality with equal parts inspiration.
(Further information on this product can be found on Spitfire’s Sacconi Page.)