Download NI Stradivari Violin
Expressive and playable solo violins are one of the holy grails of the sampling world. It’s a similar problem to producing a convincing saxophone or electric guitar solo: how to capture the huge range of articulations and timbres that a good player uses all the time, along with the subtle but crucial transitions between notes. And then make all this available in a DAW, probably controlled by a standard MIDI master keyboard.
IS Native Instruments‘ answer to this challenge, developed in collaboration with Hamburg-based e-instruments. They recorded a violin, the silver-sounding 1727 “Vesuvius”, which was made towards the end of Stradivari’s life and is now in the collection of the Museo del Violino in Cremona (Italy). The recording took place in the auditorium there, where apparently no less than 32 microphones were used, several virtuosos sharing playing duties and guards watching the exits (I’m not kidding).
It’s worth noting that Stradivari Violin is also part of a larger library, Cremona Quartet, which adds a Guarneri violin, Amati viola and Stradivari cello, all with the same sampling characteristics. The full quartet library costs twice as much as the solo violin reviewed here, and there is an upgrade path for violin owners who want to learn more about four-way action later.
First, a brief overview of the basics. Stradivari Violin runs on NI’s Kontakt or the free Kontakt Player, version 6.2.2 or higher. It is a 23.5 GB download (equivalent to about 39 GB of uncompressed sample content) that offers two NKI patches: a 17 GB multimic version (which takes up about 4 GB of RAM, with typical streaming settings on disk), and a resource-saving fixed-mix alternative that uses 6 GB of samples and just over 1 GB of RAM.
NKS controller integration includes the usual color keyboard prompts and various control mappings, but the library also works well with standard five-octave MIDI controllers. In any case, all important parameters have ready-made MIDI CCs, with facilities for learning new CC mappings and also for reconfiguring the keys used to select different articulations. I found all aspects of the presentation, from a technical point of view, completely intuitive and useful: unlike a real violin, the learning curve is very low.
When ordering Stradivari Violin, it is immediately clear that NI’s approach has not been to reinvent the wheel, but – like many high-quality libraries today – simply to make a very complete one.
If the automatic, adaptive Virtuoso mode doesn’t give you what you need, there are 20 different articulations available to satisfy almost any musical requirement.
If the automatic, adaptive Virtuoso mode doesn’t give you what you need, there are 20 different articulations available to satisfy almost any musical demands.
There are no less than 20 articulations available, all covering a tuning range from G2 to F6, starting with a wide range of long and short bows that are likely to be used most frequently, for many projects. These are complemented by fine pizzicato, tremolos and trills (with variable speed), combined/rehearsal strokes (again variable in speed, and synchronized with the tempo), along with some beautiful and sometimes haunting special effects, including Col Legno, where the wood of the bow makes contact with the string, rather than the bristles. The interface allows any combination of eight of these articulations to be loaded at once, and the Con Sordino (bridge muting) option can be activated per articulation rather than globally. The muffle effect is applied via a DSP filter rather than accessing alternate sample sets, and while subtle (compared to the mutes of some violinists I’ve heard over the years, if they remembered to bring them on stage at all…) it’s plausible enough.
However, some users may never get to explore all the articulations, as both NKIs are loaded by default with an adaptive articulation scheme called Virtuoso. This selects a sustain or marcato stroke, depending on velocity, while a push or pull of the pitch-bend wheel gives immediate access to short, snappy spiccatissimo and staccato. And that’s not all: the pitch transitions in legato change with speed, with a more passionate portamento that activates (by default) when you play louder.