Spanish conductor Jaime Martin and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra offered us a substantial symphonic meal on Saturday night, comprising a Shostakovich entrée and main, separated by a mid-programme Grieg dessert.

The conductor and musicians had immense fun with the delirious vulgarity of Shostakovich's 1954 Festive Overture; imagine a vodka-fuelled knees-up at a Soviet victory parade.

At the other end of the evening, the composer's Tenth Symphony, dating from the previous year, was something else altogether.

Martin gave us a 14-minute introduction to the piece, introducing coded themes to listen for and wittily summarising its second movement as having 50 crescendos in four minutes, with only two diminuendos.

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Preceding this Soviet musical grenade, brilliantly dispatched by the full firepower of the NZSO, was Shostakovich's heart-tugging sprawl of a first movement, set off by eloquent strings, moving through full orchestral conflagrations to end in muted remorse.

There would be more bitterness in the great finale, but tonight Martin's focus honed in on the more understated ironies of its third movement, suggesting images of Kalashnikovs lurking behind fairground waltzes.

Despite its huge popularity, the Grieg piano concerto does not appear so often in concert and it was a real treat to hear it tonight in the able hands of Simon Trpceski. The Macedonian pianist, who has given us Rachmaninov, Prokofiev and Liszt on previous visits, has a deep affection for this work, and has spoken of the need "to make it into a good story."

That he certainly did, from his deceptively gentle opening theme through to engaging dialogues with the orchestra and a tumultuous cadenza. The nocturne of its second movement was Nordic nirvana and the folkish finale was never more appropriately frisky.

Lowdown
What: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Where: Auckland Town Hall
When: Saturday