The Fischer Viola is the latest addition to Embertone‘s Intimate Strings collection (but not the last, as a contrabass is in the works), and delivers an absolutely beautiful sound, featuring true legato.
Embertone continue honouring their musicians by the use of their name on the instrument recorded, as they did with the Friedlander Violin and the Blakus Cello. In this case, the name of the violist they recorded is Christopher Fischer, who is an active solo and chamber musician, is the assistant principal violist of the North Carolina Symphony, and also teaches viola at North Carolina State University. Now, Christopher is also a member of the Embertone Family.
As is now the norm, it seems, you receive your digital copy of the library by downloading the Continuata Connect downloader and entering the serial code you would have received by email shortly after purchasing. All that is left after downloading is to activate the library using the Native Instruments Service Center application, and you are good to go.
The Library – an overview
The first thing to notice is that we only have three patches to choose from, and I wildly prefer the fewer patches approach, as large numbers can quickly become hard to navigate through – so this is already great news. One of the reasons for the availability of even fewer patches than can be found in both the Friedlander Violin and Blakus Cello is that rather than LoRAM patches, you can simply just flick a switch or two on the Configure page for a much smaller RAM footprint. However, even without these RAM saving measures, the Fischer Viola only takes up 1.07GB of RAM fully loaded (in contrast to the Friedlander Violin’s 2.17GB and the Blakus Cello’s 3.19GB. Embertone are planning updates to both the Friedlander Violin and the Blakus Cello, using what they have learnt during the production of the Fischer Viola (including CPU/RAM efficiency), which I bet will make many users very happy!
On the main page of each patch, you may choose your articulation of choice, as well as access knobs and buttons for things like reverb, vibrato control, and a special round robin button for repeated notes, among other things. The library continues the trend from the earlier Intimate Strings libraries of being easy to navigate, with clear labels and instructions. The interface features the beautiful artwork of Ryo Ishido (who is also a phenomenal composer), so the Fischer Viola is a joy both to work with and to look at.
Additionally, there is the Ensemble page, where you can set up your own private viola ensemble (following on from the concept established in the previous two libraries). You can decide on a size of up to eight players, and exactly how out-of-tune and/or precise you want them to be. When the coming contrabass is released, I can certainly see that the Ensemble mode being especially useful for creating your very own, personalized string orchestra.
The Configure page is where you go under the hood of the Fischer Viola and tinker to your heart’s content. If you want a lower RAM footprint (less than 100MB!), this is where you disable True Legato or Speed Control (sacrificing some realism in the process). The last page, Control, is the place for customizing keyswitches and CC MIDI assignments, should you need to adapt the instrument to better fit your workflow.
Interface and articulations
The different articulations on offer on the main page are: sustains, staccato, pizzicato, and tremolo. The sustain articulation is essentially the legato articulation, unless you activate the POLY button, making the instrument – you got it – polyphonic. The legato is very nicely done and sounds really good. Velocity not only controls the harshness of the first note in a legato line, but also bow change and portamento transitions (up to an octave). Slurred legato (finger legato) is controlled by the sustain pedal. It’s a brilliant idea, but it takes a little practise to master. I do have one small qualm, though: when using tremolo, I would have liked to have some kind of portamento when changing notes, just to give that particular articulation more expressiveness.
What really makes or breaks any solo string library, among other things such as changing dynamics and expressiveness, is the vibrato. If the vibrato does not sound natural, the rest falls apart. What can both be a blessing and a curse here is the absolute control you have over the vibrato, which includes several types: Default, Gentle, Passionate, Progressive, and Open String. On the vibrato display are three sliders: one to control vibrato intensity, one for vibrato speed, and one that takes care of both. To really make this library shine, one needs to work the vibrato. If you have an iPad or an Andriod tablet, there is a Touch OSC app through which you control vibrato just by moving your fingers, making it perhaps a little easier.
What is particularly enticing about the Fischer Viola are the options of sul ponticello (bowing on the bridge) and sul tasto (bowing on the fingerboard). By activating the Color mode, which is possible with any articulation, you have power over the precise position of the bow and maximum control over the timbre, creating a very flexible instrument. This is, in my opinion, one of the biggest selling points of this library. Also, it is recorded ALMOST as dry as the Sahara, so that means you are free to use any reverb you like, if you do not wish to use the Reverb knob on the main page.
The Fischer Viola is one heck of an instrument, with a realistic and expressive sound – if handled correctly. There is a short learning curve (or at least there was, for me), but there is a fairly comprehensive manual, so I always felt in safe hands. Customizability is a big thing here, if you want it to be. Be it less bow noise, intonation randomization, portamento speed and much, much more, there are lots of possibilities for getting just the sound you want. The Fischer Viola sounds simply beautiful, no matter your playing speed, and the price tag makes this a must-have.
One thing is for certain, when you begin to know what you are doing, this viola will not be the butt of any joke. Just keep that modwheel moving!