Pianist, keyboard player and guitarist are not all the job descriptions Tony Cliff can add to his CV. He also has a keen interest in composing and songwriting, and has specialised in jazz studies, composition and arranging as a Senior Lecturer in Music at Salford University. He has had plenty of his work published by companies such as Stainer and Bell, Faber Music, Studio Music,Kirklees Music and Winwood Music.
Now living in Cornwall, Tony has been working as a performer and composer, as well as a tutor in jazz piano at Falmouth University. He currently performs piano, guitar and vocals in the Jazz, Blues and Acoustic duo Julestone with lead vocalist Jules Varley.
With all this knowledge in music under his belt, we were thrilled to hear that he wanted to review Garritan Personal Orchestra 5 (GPO5) for us. Keep reading to see what he has to say!
“Gary Garritan has been at the forefront of instrumental sample production for many years and recently I was pleased to review the outstanding Garritan CFX Concert Grand Piano for the Time + Space Blog. This sampled piano has become the personal favourite in my collection of virtual grand piano instruments. Garritan Personal Orchestra was originally established as a high-quality but also very affordable comprehensive collection of orchestral instruments. It was designed to be light on resources and easy to use and rapidly became a popular standard for both notation programs such as Sibelius or Finale as well as widespread use in DAW programs for orchestral work. As years went by many other rival orchestral collections have been released but generally they are much more expensive and also require substantial computer storage space for their multi-gigabytes of samples.
Gary Garritan always wanted to make Personal Orchestra really affordable and therefore available for all budgets and not just for the professional music specialists. I am therefore pleased to see that the new release, which comes a full six years after the previous edition, is still very affordable at £99 and there is an upgrade edition available for owners of GPO4 which is just £37.95.
The software is compatible with Microsoft Windows 7 or later and Mac OS X 10.8 or later and when I downloaded and installed GPO5 and the first thing I noticed was that it is substantially larger than the former version. My GPO4 folder is just under 2 GB but my GPO5 folder is 11.6 GB which is almost six times larger so there must be great differences in the number and size of instrument samples in this new collection. Like GPO4 the new edition makes use of the proprietary Aria Player which functions in both standalone mode or within a DAW or music notation program. It has an attractive interface which seems to be light on the computer demands and is very simple to navigate. Any Garritan collections you have installed on your system are listed on the left hand side and instruments may be quickly and easily loaded into any of the sixteen slots available.
The sounds in the GPO5 collection are sampled ‘dry’ which is a good thing as you can control what type of effect that may wish to add. Reverb and other effects are well catered for in Aria Player with convolution reverb presets simulating room spaces from small rooms to huge cathedrals or you set up your own. Then in the mixer section you can adjust the amount of reverb or effect you wish to send to each instrument and of course set the panning left or right to make a full stereo stage field. The modulation wheel functions as an important expressive device for Garritan instruments as you can adjust the level of sound output up and down using the modulation wheel to achieve a much more human and musical effect. You can also use an expression pedal to achieve the same effects and these rises and falls within musical phrases are especially important for string and wind sounds.
Since this is an orchestral collection there will be no jazz saxophones, electric piano or other such non-orchestral instruments found. What is included, however, are just about all the possible sounds you will hear in orchestras from the classical to the modern era including all the percussion instruments both pitched non-pitched. When you open up GPO5 in Aria Player you will see ‘Notation’ and ‘Standard’ options. ‘Notation’ is really designed for use in notation software such as Finale or Sibelius. More recent versions of Finale are fully compatible with GPO5 with appropriate soundmaps for seamless use with this program. The former edition of Garritan Personal Orchestra was similarly fully set up for easy compatibility with Sibelius but there is no GPO5 Sibelius soundset yet available.
A soundset in Sibelius means that when you add dynamic markings or relevant performance text then sounds will automatically switch to the correct instrument sound. For example applying the word pizz will switch the strings to play pizzicato and when you apply he word arco the sound will switch back to bowed strings. This makes the use of a large instrument collection like GPO5 much simpler to use and I am hoping that a GPO5 soundset will appear in the future for Sibelius. The ‘Standard’ category of GPO5 instruments will be used in other programs such as DAWs like Cubase and Logic.
Examining the instrument list we see categories for Woodwinds, Brass, Percussion, Harps, Keyboards, Pipe Organ, Solo Strings, Choir, and finally Garritan Orchestral Strings.I will not have time here to investigate the entire collection but mainly look at some of the differences from the previous edition. Looking at flutes you have standard flutes but also alto flute and bass flute which are much less common. There are also flutes with non-vibrato, flutes with vibrato and flutes with effects like flutter tonguing. In common with numerous instruments in the collection there ‘Key Switch’ versions and when you choose one of these certain MIDI keys are set to switch the sound back and forth. You can easily switch between legato, non-legato and flutter-tongue by inserting these MIDI key switches.
Next we have a full selection of oboes and english horn (cor anglais), modern and classical oboes amd also oboe d’amore. The range of each instrument is displayed in the Aria Player keyboard which also illustrates any key switch notes. As you would expect the instruments will not sound above or below the range that the real acoustic instruments could play. If you require that very low-pitched flute sound then you will have to opt for a bass flute. Next in the woodwind there are the clarinets which include bass clarinet and contrabass clarinet. The bass clarinet had a rich, fruity tone as did the very rarely used contrabass.
Rounding off the woodwind are the bassoons which also include contrabassoon. Since I have GPO4 and GPO5 installed I compared my installation folders and it is clear that GPO5 contains all the instruments in the earlier edition amounting to around 2 GB of samples but then additionally there are further folders (Brass, Choir, Harps, Keyboards, Orchestral Strings, Organ, Percussion, Section Strings, Solo Strings) amounting to 10 GB of extra samples. So I will set investigating some of the new material.
Generous Extra Sounds
The strings have been greatly enhanced with plenty of additional choices with the new ‘Section Strings’, ‘Small Sections’ and ‘Solo Strings’. The violins from the ‘Section Strings’ offer a wide range of playing technique including three different types of ‘Col Legno’, various string harmonics and different types of pizzicato. Next are choices for strings playing with long bows or short bows and all this choice of sounds and range of techniques extends throughout all the strings right down to the double basses. Next are the full strings option with film score settings which sounds suitably lush and expressive. There are also plenty of ambient noises and other strings effects available ideal for those atmospheric film score needs.
There are very useful ‘Key Switch’ option for each strings group where you can switch between sustain, heavy vibrato, grand détaché, marcato, pizzicato, portato, col legno, spiccato and so on quickly via the appropriate MIDI key switch. The pianos included have been greatly extended with a great Steinway Model D Concert Grand which sounds really rich in the bass and with a full mid-range and bright, crisp treble range. In addition there are Model B Steinway variants to complete a generous piano line up. The choir samples have also been greatly augmented and many of these include ‘Key Switch’ functions to switch between ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ vocal sounds. There are boys choirs and children’s choirs and also and full mixed voice choir which is very effective. The brass instruments have been greatly extended with the addition of many of the excellent ProjectSAM selections from their ‘Orchestral Brass Classic’ collection. Finally both the harp and pipe organ sounds have been enhanced with extra choices.
‘Garritan Personal Orchestra 5’ is a great upgrade since it incorporates all the original instruments but also adds a generous selection of fine instruments many of which are huge refinements over the previous version. It still represents a genuine bargain in offering a comprehensive collection of great orchestral sounds for such a modest outlay and the upgrade price for owners of the earlier version is amazing value.
Whilst there are numerous alternative choices for orchestral collections available nowadays many of them are very expensive and also heavy on resources and computer power requirements. Garritan Personal Orchestra 5 therefore remains a fine all-round choice and is capable of really expressive and musical results. If you need a complete orchestra collection for your DAW or notation program then GPO5 is a good choice and if you own the earlier version then the upgrade is a complete no-brainer as far as I can see.”