I confess to having known little about the Seoul Philharmonic before this evening's concert. However I did know something of tonight's conductor, Myung-Whung Chung, having seen him conduct one of his other orchestras, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France last month at the Proms in London. He is a wonderful musician who coaxes the music out of his players. He guides rather than dictates, allowing his orchestras the freedom to express themselves in a wonderfully organic way. Such was his manner again last night when conducting this relatively unknown orchestra.

© BBC / Chris Christodoulou
© BBC / Chris Christodoulou

The programme started with Debussy's La mer, in a reverse of the advertised order. This piece is perhaps the most famous depiction of the sea in music, with its rich orchestration and vivid colours effectively capturing both the majesty, serenity and mystery of the sea. The first movement set the tone for the whole evening, with the orchestra displaying many of its enviable qualities - rhythmically tight playing; very lyrical woodwind playing; a rich string sound and a beautifully warm brass sound. The climax of this movement was particularly exciting, played with great breadth. The second movement allowed us to enjoy the seemlessness of Debussy's harmonies with some lush orchestral playing, while the third movement effectively brought out the menacing nature of the sea with some excellent dark, brooding orchestral colours.

The final work in the first half was Ravel's La valse. The composer George Benjamin said of this piece, 'its one-movement design plots the birth, decay and destruction of a musical genre: the waltz'. It is easy to see how this is the case with the work displaying at times graceful lyricism and at other times a rather macabre nature. Myung-Whung Chung effectively captured all of the different moods of the work, with both a tight orchestral ensemble and a lyrical, graceful rubato.

The second half of the concert was devoted entirely to Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6. This performance was full of drama and intensity with the orchestra clearly revelling in the great work. This was above all a truly 'live' performance. The music was beautifully timed with the expectant pauses in the work's introduction to the emerging of the famous tune in the violins, which showcased the orchestra's rich string sound. After the dying away of this section, the full orchestra crashed in with great drama, effectively interruping the silence. Worthy of special mention is the third movement, which was played with such joie de vivre and joyful swagger that the audience burst into spontaneous applause at its conclusion. This effectively displayed the full orchestral sound, in particular some exciting brass playing. However the work ends with a rather dark, slow movement. The gorgeous D major section once again showcased the rich full string sound of the Seoul Philharmonic and was hauntingly beautiful. The work concludes however back in the home key of B minor with the double basses. So effective was the decrescendo that it was hard to discern when the music had stopped. Both the audience and orchestra remained still for a long time before cheers and heart-felt applause filled the concert hall.

And so to the encores. Myung-Whun Chung announced that the orchestra could not leave us with the death and despair of the end of Tchaikovsky's 6th Symphony, so we were treated to an exquisite performance of Rachmaninov's Vocalise. The orchestra interrupted our applause as it unexpectedly broke out into a virtuosic rendition of Brahms' G minor Hungarian Dance which brought the house down.

This was the first time the Seoul Philharmonic had performed at the Concertgebouw and I'm sure everyone who was present will be hoping for a swift return. I began by saying that this is a relatively unknown orchestra. I am sure we will be hearing a lot more of them in the future.

*****