A competition veteran makes her long-awaited solo debut album

Danbi Um: Much Ado: Romantic Violin Pieces

The Strad Issue: December 2023

Description: A competition veteran makes her long-awaited solo debut album

Musicians: Danbi Um (violin) Amy Yang (piano)

Works: Music by Korngold, Wagner, Brahms, Hubay, Dohnányi, Achron, Zeitlin, Bloch and Kreisler

Catalogue number: AVIE AV2615

Much Ado: Romantic Violin Pieces

South Korean-born, Curtis Institute-trained Danbi Um received the second prize in the Junior category of the 2004 Menuhin Competition (narrowly beating Ray Chen, who came joint third). Her debut solo album falls into three parts: Viennese-style high-Romanticism (Korngold, Kreisler, Wagner), Gypsy-influenced music (Brahms, Hubay, Dohnányi) and music by Jewish composers (Achron, Zeitlin, Bloch).

If the first movement from Korngold’s Much Ado About Nothing suite (‘The Maiden in the Bridal Chamber’) could do with a touch more suave charm, and if the sound in the third (‘Scene in the Garden’) might open out a little more, these might both have been helped with a little more lift in the acoustic.

Um brings a rustic swagger to Kreisler’s arrangement of Brahms’s Hungarian Dance no.17 and there’s plenty of colour in Hubay’s ‘The Waters of Maros’ from Scènes de la csárda – ranging from the filigree cadenza-like arpeggios in harmonics to searing double-stopping and pizzicato chords.

In the Jewish pieces Um’s way with line and subtle portamento is winning, but the sound could be warmer and more effortless. Kreisler’s Viennese Rhapsodic Fantasietta closes the disc, though Tessa Lark’s recording of the piece (with the same pianist) swings and sways more.