Vienna Symphonic Library (VSL) made its mark creating the highest-quality orchestral sample libraries for world-class film composers and arrangers. Its meticulously multisampled string libraries were often criticized for being too precise — a little sterile and lacking emotion. That's where Appassionata Strings steps in with emotionally charged string ensembles and a lush, cinematic sound that can find a home anywhere, such as the obvious motion-picture scores, as well as downtempo remixes, video games, emotive hip-hop and urban arrangements, rock ballads and more.
VSL samples consistently offer the most articulation of any orchestral library. They used to require a MIDI channel for each articulated part. But in response to user demand, VSL created the Vienna Instruments virtual instrument interface — a highly advanced sample-player (Audio Units, VST and stand-alone) with functionality for the way orchestral instruments are played. It's the new front end to all VSL sample instruments.
Vienna Instruments libraries come as Standard or Extended. Standard libraries contain a core set of sounds, including the most useful and important playing techniques (legato, détaché/portato, staccato, sustains and trills, etc.), while Extended libraries add flexibility with extra articulations, dynamics, grace runs, effects and more. Both 24-bit/44.1 kHz libraries come compressed on the included DVD (unpacking to 18 GB), but the Extended library unlocks with a code you can purchase.
Larger than a typical chamber orchestra but slightly smaller than a leading philharmonic, the Appassionata Strings ensembles consist of 20 violins, 14 violas, 12 cellos and 10 double basses — a good balance of power and intimacy. By combining six five-string and four four-string basses, the low end is considerably deeper and richer than most symphonies. The stereo recordings are absolutely breathtaking, capturing stunning hall acoustics and stage locations that, when the individual sections are layered, create a wide natural panorama that engulfs the monitoring field. Although void of any annoying bow clicks, foot movement or chair noise that often pollute lesser libraries, the recordings retain plenty of the human elements associated with ensemble bowing; the ambience can be startlingly realistic and incite goose bumps.
Like all Vienna Instruments, Appassionata Strings uses presets, matrices and patches, each representing different levels of instrument integration. Presets are essentially what you play and contain user-definable configurations of the other two. A matrix is an array of cells in two dimensions (to a maximum of 12 by 12) containing patches that can be activated using controllers, for a total of 144 articulation possibilities per preset. Finally, patches contain the actual samples and typically comprise only one basic articulation type each.
A proprietary “performance-detection” algorithm automatically summons the perfect articulation as you play in real time — almost like reading your mind. It works surprisingly well. Alternatively, you can navigate the articulation cells manually using a combination of keyswitching (which typically occurs outside the play range of the instrument) and/or mod wheel. The preconfigured matrices generally employ keyswitches or playing speed — such as moving from slow to fast legato — to access patch cells horizontally and the modulation wheel for vertical shifting (switch from legato to staccato and spiccato repetitions). A thumbwheel mod wheel is better for this than a joystick such as those found on most Novation keyboard controllers. Also, VSL highly recommends an 88-note keyboard, so you can access all keyswitches and still be able to play the highest violin notes.
Appassionata Strings will fulfill all your needs for high expression, whether sounding sweet and triumphant or brooding and menacing. In Vienna's innovative “out-of-tune” samples for each instrument section, various players of the ensemble carefully correct their intonation as the tone progresses. There are also random pizzicato patches allowing you to dabble in a little John Cage-style composition — always cool for today's trippy beat and hip-hop genres. Likewise, the myriad grace runs (chromatic, minor third, up and down) in the effects folder make perfect ornaments of classical touch to a contemporary urban arrangement.
VIENNA SYMPHONIC LIBRARY (DIST. BY ILIO ENTERTAINMENT)
APPASSIONATA STRINGS > $645 (STANDARD); $1,220 (EXTENDED)
Pros: Gorgeous and highly emotive large sections of violin, viola, cello and double bass. Simple and intelligent user interface. Unprecedented articulation variety and real-time performance control. Low system impact. Intel Mac-ready. Stand-alone or plug-in operation.
Cons: High cost for the added quality. USB dongle sold separately.
Mac: G4/88MHz; OS 10.4 or later; VST/Audio Units; USB port for copy-protection key
PC: Intel or AMD/2 GHz; Windows XP; VST; USB port for copy-protection key.