Collection: Magdalena

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COMPOSERS: Anonymous
WORKS: Medieval songs for Mary Magdalen
PERFORMER: Joglaresa/Belinda Sykes


Though Wagner’s Parsifal, Elgar’s The Apostles and John Tavener’s Mary of Egypt relate in diverse ways to the theme of the penitent harlot, their devotion is but small beer compared to the medieval cult of Mary Magdalen. Susan Haskins’s booklet note gives the story in detail, backing up the primary evidence from the ever-resourceful Belinda Sykes and Joglaresa in a tapestry of hymns, laude and other forms portraying five centuries of devotion to Mary as harlot, penitent and Resurrection witness.

How to present this music is very much a matter of personal taste, and given the ensemble’s reputation for jazz, improvisation and all manner of cultural diversity, some might expect more potent aural seasoning, perhaps with extra percussion. But repeated hearings reveal a procession of pieces finely drafted in terms of balance, contrast and content. The Easter sequence ‘Victimae paschali laudes’, for example, sung first as chant, then within triple-texted motet, then played instrumentally, makes for an intriguing grouping.


Together with solos for harp and fidel, the vocal items range widely in mood and style, from delicate lyrics to ostinato dance-songs with raucous hurdy-gurdy. Full details of sources used for the contrafacta and other reconstructions may be accessed via the internet. Nicholas Williams