MUSIC / Out of the top drawer: Robert Maycock on rediscovered theatre pieces by Prokofiev and Franck and a surprise party from the Sudan

Was there ever a week like it for vocal discoveries? On Monday, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Docklands Sinfonietta gave the first-ever full public performance of Prokofiev's music for Eugene Onegin, dovetailed smoothly into a translated adaptation of the Pushkin story. A long evening slipped by in no time as a state of steadily increasing enchantment took hold. One top-drawer Prokofiev melody followed another, romantic and piquant, sometimes familiar - he recycled some of the score into other works - and often completely fresh.

Little of it is actually sung; mostly the orchestra plays beneath, or between, the speeches and narrations. But it has the same gift for pinning down character in a phrase or a stroke of colour that distinguishes Prokofiev's ballets. Emerging from a state of deceptive tranquillity, it later comes to pace and punctuate the action with his usual sense of theatrical impact, and there are constant strokes to relish: the tunes that recur in ever-changing orchestrations, the dance episodes, the wit - one brief number, played first by a pair of harpsichords and then by a wind band, sets off overt laughter with its harmonic lurches.

All this brings out a satirical-comic edge in Pushkin that Tchaikovsky's opera sidelined. It does not plumb the loner's depths of despair in the same way, but in this performance it caught all the delicacy of sentiment with some sweet-toned string playing under the direction of Sir Edward Downes, the prime mover in the whole project. A cast of actors led by Timothy West read the text from scripts; this Onegin really needs a full staging to get round the inevitable stumbles and pedestrian half-acting that occur in concert conditions. In the meantime there is a recording on the way, made the next day.

The find of the week, though, was Cesar Franck's opera Hulda. When University College Opera chose it for this year's Bloomsbury Theatre season, they did not know it had never before been performed in its entirety. The composer never saw any of it. His son, in a well-meant attempt to get it put on somehow, allowed brutal cuts, and for the past century it has languished as 'evidence' that Franck wasn't cut out for the theatre. David Drummond, UCO's director of music, was fascinated enough to track down the original full score and let it speak for itself. The result puts hearsay thoroughly in its place.

It's true that Franck lacks flair for the episodes of violence, and with its unwieldy list of minor characters Hulda doesn't really achieve a dramatic balance. But it is beautifully composed and scored, and small moments of magic - a fading clarinet solo here, a quartet of saxophones there - crop up all the time. Drummond conducted with conviction, and the up-and-coming Adele Paxton brought eloquence and understanding to the magnificent title role at the heart of a fairly basic production in striking, Munch-style sets.

As for vocal surprise of the week, that has to be the opening concert of the 'New Visions of the Horn of Africa' season at the QEH last Saturday. We expected two Sudanese singers with oud, the Arab lute. We got them, but with a punchy, amplified band including violin and piano accordion, saxophone and guitars, keyboard and two drummers. Abdel Aziz El Mubarak delivered sophisticated, urban versions of his songs; Abdel Karim El Kabli found a purer, more freely expressive way.

The music itself, pentatonic and strongly African in its rhythms, sometimes sounds like Irish traditional music with swing. On Saturday the first half hovered on the brink of nightclub style, but the large audience loved the second, dancing in their seats and wandering down to pay their respects at the front. They had just about warmed up when the concert stopped and the hall shut down, leaving a sense of aimless frustration: a case of wrong venue if ever there was one.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'