Review – Macabre Solo Strings from Strezov Sampling
Solo strings with a limited range but unlimited possibilities with this exceptional sounding collection of solo violin, viola and cello.
by Per Lichtman, Nov. 2016
Strezov Sampling’s Macabre Solo Strings ($179 USD from Strezov-Sampling.com) is a very unique, easy to use and expressive legato and portamento solo string library, for Kontakt 5.3.0+ Full. The library samples a violin, viola and cello, each into its own patch, with smaller ranges based on the range used in Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saëns. That means each instrument has a two-octave range, with the cello going from G1 to G3 (omitting the bottom seven semitones), the viola from C2 to C4 and the violin from G2 to G4 (middle C is C3). The library is very narrow in the scope it targets – but within that scope it may very well be the best solo strings library I’ve tried to date.
There are three patches, one for each of the instruments, with the cello offering long-form legato and the violin and viola both long-form legato and portamento. The GUI is single-pane, simple, clear and visually appealing, with a colorful display influenced by the source material. There are two microphone positions, both activated by default, with level and panning controls as solo, mute and purge (sample unload) buttons. Both the legato intervals between the samples and the release samples can be switched on or off in the GUI and all controls can be linked to a MIDI CC of your choice using Kontakt’s right-click MIDI learn options. Turning legato intervals off makes it possible to play multiple notes at once.
The patches and scripts are provided unlocked and editable, without any form of intrusive copy protection. Sustains are played for the duration they were recorded (which often includes multiple re-bowings) and then end. There are no re-bowing keyswitches or looped sustains. All patches are single dynamic layer, so I didn’t hear any phasing artifacts. Instead of crossfading between dynamics, the modwheel acts a level control over a circa 12 dB range (depending on the mic position or mic positions used).
The first thing to mention about the sound is that it is very natural. This is the sort of library where if you play it in a slow, lyrical fashion it is genuinely difficult to make it sound artificial. Both the standard long-form legatos and the portamentos are passionate and musical. There’s warmth and depth to the sound and it never feels overly glossy or harsh. The library has a great out of the box sound without relying on reverb processing – and the library does not use any FX except scripted EQ used to enhance attacks/transitions. The library was recorded at the same Sofia Session Studio where so Strezov Sampling has recorded choral libraries like Freyja Female Choir. The close mic is suitably close for mixing in just about any context, while the far position is very wet with long, grand tails.
In part because of the big difference in sound between the near and far position microphones, the sound is extremely flexible and great for layering. I found it really enhanced ensemble string libraries I worked with whenever I was writing parts that catered to its style and range, especially for the violin and viola.
Honestly, there aren’t a whole lot of libraries similar to Macabre Solo Strings. In terms of a relatively single articulation approach with an emphasis on slow and expressive playing, the closest would be CineSamples Tina Guo Acoustic Cello Legato (which we reviewed last year and has a $99 USD MSRP). Even here, there are some major differences. Most obviously, Macabre Solo Strings offers three instruments instead of one at a little less than double the price and gives dual mic positions that offer much great flexibility to use the sound in a variety of mix contexts than Tina Guo Acoustic Cello Legato. On the flip side, Tina Guo Acoustic Cello legato features a three octave range (extending both higher and lower) compared to two in Macabre Solo Strings and does not require a full version of Kontakt. Both libraries feature highly expressive performances that are quite different in character. The cello in Macabre Solo Strings features a subtler and slower vibrato and the interval legato sampling is often on the “smooth and portamento influenced” side of things, while Tina Guo Acoustic Cello Legato favors pronounced rebowing many of the interval legato samples. Both products sound excellent and are extremely easy to use, so it really depends on the range you want the instrument to cover and the stylistic and mixing considerations in play.
If you are looking for versatile multi-articulation solo string libraries (that often offer greater creative range in exchange for longer learning curve) there are many great options available, including Embertone Intimate Solo Strings, Vienna Solo Strings I and Fluffy Audio Trio Broz. These libraries all offer some level of variation in vibrato (including full vibrato control Embertone Intimate Solo Strings), that is simply not offered here. Macabre Solo Strings does not attempt to compete with their versatility but it not only has a shorter learning curve but also a more pleasant out of the box sound – being the only one out of that list that I would use without additional mixing plug-ins.
Room for Improvement
While Macabre Solo Strings is generally so simple that there’s no need for a manual (which is good because there isn’t one) and most questions are answered either on the Macabre Solo Strings product page or in the overview video, the one thing that I had to figure out on my own was how to trigger portamento intervals for the violin and viola. Portamento is only available for ascending intervals of a perfect fifth or greater and are played automatically when such intervals are triggered at velocities between 1 and 25. Once you know how it works, it’s simple and transparent, but Strezov Sampling should really document this for new users because it isn’t intuitively obvious. The product page only mentions “triggering different legato styles by velocity” but does not mention either velocity ranges or limitations.
It should go without saying that I wish the library covered a wider range – but that’s mostly because it covers the range of pitches it includes so well that I wish I could play even more. I hope that the company revisits this sampling approach in the future to do an expanded product.
The library is narrow in scope. Limitations in instrument range, single-dynamic layers and on the number of articulations mean it’s not for everybody. This isn’t the library you pull up when you want your solo strings to be able to do a lot of different things – it’s the one you pull up for slow, expressive sustain or legato/portamento lines that sound great.
Is It Right For You?
Macabre Solo Strings is a joy to work with. It’s melodic, dark, expressive and extremely easy to use. It’s the first multi-instrument solo string library I’ve used where I liked it the out of the box as is, making it great for beginners that want a great sound as well as those that don’t want to spend a lot of time on mixing. If you’re looking for versatile multi-articulation libraries, vibrato control or wide instrument ranges, look elsewhere. If you want slow sustain and legato that sacrifices control for the natural expression of the recorded, you’ll be able to get great results with quicker and more easily than most other libraries. It’s great for both solo string compositions and for layering with other libraries and is easily one of my favorite and most frequently used libraries.