Don’t talk – just listen!


This album presents a selection of works commissioned by The Clerks over the last decade, and is their first devoted entirely to contemporary music. The impulse behind each commission was different, as was the context in which they were first performed; so necessarily this is an eclectic anthology. The works were designed to suit the forces of the group and their ranges and timbres, but more than that, they each represent a fascinating and innocative engagement with the compositional techniques, genres and motivations of late Medieval and Renaissance music – the repertoire on which The Clerks have cut their teeth.

Review from a previous release with Signum:

Review from a previous release with Signum:
“…you can’t fault the singing, which brings a vibrant, assured presence to these ancient works; and if you’re looking for fine, clearly sung, stylistically conscientious performances, you really can’t go wrong here.”


What people are saying

“The quality of the singing is excellent throughout, with The Clerks creating a distinctive and individual sound. The ensemble should be congratulated for their work in commissioning new repertoire of such quality. This is an engaging disc which deserves to be heard.”


“… it’s worth lending both ears to this terrific selection of contemporary works written for early music specialists The Clerks”

Editors Choice, The Gramophone

The Clerks

Release date:21st Sep 2009
Order code:SIGCD174
Barcode: 635212017425

For Musical Pointers readers and admirers of The Clerks, this CD, representing a decade of commissions, may be the record of the month.

Whilst the most arresting are Fox’s miniature 21st C "Cries of London", taken from the freebie newpaper London Lite, small ads, spam e/mails and billboard slogans, there are weightier items too; contrafacta (new texts to old songs) and simultaneous bi-textual settings in the manner of medieval motets. All given with the expertise The Clerks usually lavish on old and very old music.

Peter Grahame Wolfe, January 2010

The Clerks is an ensemble of twelve voices, formed at Oxford University in 1992. The ensemble mostly sings renaissance repertoire, and has released numerous discs. This is their first all-contemporary disc. It comprises works they have commissioned over the last ten years.

Robert Saxton’s Five Motets open the disc, written for a Proms performance in 2003, coinciding with the composer’s 50th birthday. These are songs which are both unified in terms of their language and subject matter and varied in their texture and mood. Sections of the music ranges from the frenetic and complex to the simple and monophonic. The work takes a journey as its central theme, and uses biblical texts in Latin and English poems written by the composer. The overall effect is highly enjoyable and this music has much to offer.

Thou wast present as on this day by Antony Pitts is texturally simpler than the Saxton, but no less effective. The harmonic language gives a contemporary twist to renaissance vocal music and there are some delicious dissonances which can be clearly savoured within their musical context. Unisons and subtle repetitions give the work added strength in preparation for the climactic ending.

The first of two Gabriel Jackson works on the disc, The Armed Man combines a poem by Robert Palmer with a traditional text, L’homme armé. This is a poignant work with some beautifully expressive moments. The two texts work well together and give a sense of dual dimensions.

Christopher Fox’s first work on the disc is the hypnotic A Spousal Verse, which uses varying levels of polyphony and dissonance throughout the poem, to excellent effect. The longer 20 ways to improve your life takes its text from small ads, newspaper texts, slogans and spam email, and has the effect of a commentary on modern life. The texts themselves provide a wonderful character, with fleeting moments of humour sometimes reminiscent of a Monty Python sketch – such as the occasional appearance of a billboard with a seemingly ridiculous text set with musical seriousness. This is a wonderfully light-hearted work which is set beautifully for this vocal ensemble, using a range of compositional techniques to create a highly successful tapestry of sound.

The Three Contrafacta are old songs given new texts and form the beginning of a new collection by The Clerks. The first of these, The Man who spills his soup sets comical words by Ian McMillan to an anonymous 14th century text. The effect is delightfully amusing and gives a surprising modernism to an early melody. Walter Frye’s So ys emprentid is treated to a new text in a more serious manner by Edward Wickham. This ballad is beautifully constructed with clear lines and a balanced sound. The last of the group is a setting of Post missarum sollempnia, an English motet with a Latin text. Ian Duhig’s reworking is close to an English translation of the original text. These three songs provide a new perspective on the original music, and are in many ways more fascinating than the originals.

The final work on the disc is Gabriel Jackson’s Te Deum, a work lasting almost ten minutes and commissioned in 2004. Based on the Te Deum plainchant melody, additional vocal lines weave around the original chant, creating an eerie multi-layered effect.

The quality of the singing is excellent throughout, with The Clerks creating a distinctive and individual sound. The ensemble should be congratulated for their work in commissioning new repertoire of such quality. This is an engaging disc which deserves to be heard.

Carla Rees

Gramophone Magazine Editor’s Choice, January 2010

The title of this disc is, ironically, something I’ve found myself paraphrasing on many occasions in the concert hall. And it’s worth lending both ears to this terrific selection of contemporary works written for early music specialists The Clerks over the past decade or so. Their modern adventures clearly benefit the group. Doubtless, just as this informs their early music work, the opposite applies.

James Inverne, Editor – The Gramophone, January 2010

This group of contemporary vocal works was specially commissioned by The Clerks over the last 10 years and written to suit their forces, ranges and timbres. Moreover, given their group’s strong association with the Medieval and Renaissance repertoires, all the works on this disc, in a bold and thoroughly atavistic manner, explore contemporary engagements with music of those earlier periods. Perhaps most substantial are the nine-part Five Motets by Robert Saxton, a polyphonically interesting and varied reflection on the central theme of an “outward journey” and sense of “return” symbolised by spiritual fulfillment. This cycle makes for rewarding repeated listening, not least for its detailed organisation (an insight of which is helpfully provided by the composer in the booklet-notes) and the rich, variegated texture of the vocal writing. Pitt’s evocative Josquin- inspired Thou wast present, an intricate piece, is notable for the way in which a major triad stands at the centre of the structure and emerges luminously at the end. A mixture of archaic methods informs Jackson’s The Armed Man characterised not only by its use of the eponymous old French song bt also through studied techniques of cantus firmus, hocketing and bi-textuality. Yet perhaps most memorable is the composer’s use of Robert Palmer’s First World War poem as a romantic foil (especially the compelling lyrical centre). The more opulent Te Deum, by contrast, reveals Jackson’s more typical imaginative exploitation of luxuriant, multi-voiced sonorities. Of the three works by Christopher Fox, which include the amusing cycle of aphorisms 20 Ways to Improve Your Life and the inventive Tree Contrafacta, I was most attracted to the shifting Kaleidoscopic textures of the serene pastoral A Spousal Verse, a truly haunting miniature.

Jeremy Dibble

  1. Five Motets – Motet 1: Dixit autem Dominus ad Abram – Robert Saxton –
  2. – Motet 2: Distant, a family travels – Robert Saxton –
  3. – Motet 3: Down the ages a song has echoed – Robert Saxton –
  4. – Motet 4: Returning, wander weary – Robert Saxton –
  5. – Motet 5: Igitur egressus Iacob – Robert Saxton –
  6. Thou wast present as on this day – Antony Pitts –
  7. The Armed Man – Gabriel Jackson –
  8. A Spousal Verse – Christopher Fox –
  9. 20 Ways To improve Your Life – Don?t talk, just listen – Christopher Fox –
  10. – I am an expert in relationships – Christopher Fox –
  11. – Massage, medication – Christopher Fox –
  12. – Launch your career – Christopher Fox –
  13. – Look good, feel great – Christopher Fox –
  14. – I am fast – Christopher Fox –
  15. – Reliable, efficient – Christopher Fox –
  16. – Rise to the challenge – Christopher Fox –
  17. – Give your sperm a life – Christopher Fox –
  18. – I am a specialist in weight loss – Christopher Fox –
  19. – Out on the open road – Christopher Fox –
  20. – Don’t run low – Christopher Fox –
  21. – Be an egg donor – Christopher Fox –
  22. – Please to not betray – Christopher Fox –
  23. – Royal from Day One – Christopher Fox –
  24. – I am woman – Christopher Fox –
  25. – Vocal ensemble for hire – Christopher Fox –
  26. – Proactive, professional – Christopher Fox –
  27. – Mature composer seeks work – Christopher Fox –
  28. – Guarantee – Christopher Fox –
  29. Three Contrafacta – The Man who spills his soup – Anon (adpt Ian McMillan) –
  30. – So ys emprentid – Walter Frye (adpt Edward Wickham) –
  31. – After the Mass – Anon (adpt Ian Duhig) –
  32. Te Deum – Gabriel Jackson –
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