For a long time, the free culture world has lacked a decent set of orchestral samples. Various projects have produced or compiled samples of instruments, but often just in their raw form, requiring the user to assemble them in to something useful. It would take a hell of a lot of work to pull in samples from these various sources and turn them in to not just usable instruments, but a usable collection of instruments with a consistent sound, but that’s exactly what Mattias Westlund and some helpers have done, in the form of the Sonatina Symphonic Orchestra.
SSO (as I’ll refer to it) covers all the basics: the common brass, woodwind, and string instruments, in sections and as solo instruments, with a few important articulations (like staccato and pizzicato notes on the violin sections, for example), along with piano, chorus, and percussion instruments. They’re all bundled in to a single 440MB download (via BitTorrent) with a Creative Commons Sampling Plus licence, and the instruments themselves are all in SFZ format, so they’re compatible with the current LinuxSampler development code from CVS.
Now, at 440MB, it’s not going to rival VSL (it’s individual instruments are several times as large!), but it’s far better than anything I’ve heard from the traditional free options, such as the Fluid GM library. The demo on the SSO website is well worth a listen: it does show the library’s limitations at times, but it also shows just how good it can sound. Scoring believable orchestral parts is as much in the programming as it is in the sounds themselves, but SSO gives us all a solid, Linux-compatible base to work from.
One last word on Linux compatibility — some of the SFZ files in the collection play a bit loose with the cases on the filenames of the samples they link to, which causes problems when loading them in LinuxSampler. The authors are aware of the issue and I’m sure it’ll be addressed before the next release, but for now, I’ve uploaded a complete set of corrected SFZ files. Extract those over the top of the SFZ files from the distribution, and you shouldn’t get any trouble from LinuxSampler.