Farm Street celebrates half-century with Choir's CD

The Immaculate Conception at Farm Street Church
The Immaculate Conception at Farm Street Church

Farm Street Church’s musical reputation spans almost a century; and its choir has now issued a CD to celebrate its 50 years as a parish of the Archdiocese of Westminster. Both God's and Mary's Son includes favourite musical works from the choir’s repertoire, along with special commissions composed for the choir by Gabriel Jackson, for which the choir gave the premiere performances.

The Farm Street Church Choir originated as men and boy choristers recruited from the Jesuit parish in Wimbledon (Sacred Heart) and schools across London. Ernest Newman, music critic for the Sunday Times for nearly 40 years from 1920, described its singing as “perfect”, saying it “must be one of the finest choirs in the country”. During the Second World War, a quintet of male voices provided music for the liturgies, before the choir was re-established with professional mixed voice singers. Briefly disbanded post-Vatican II to encourage more congregational singing, the Farm Street Choir was reinstated in the early 1970s. Since then, it has provided the music for the main liturgies at the Mayfair Church, as well as special occasions, such as weddings, funerals and memorials.

Commitment to musical excellenceFr John Driscoll SJ

Last December, the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, celebrated the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception at Farm Street Church to mark its 50th anniversary as a parish of the Archdiocese. By way of demonstrating Farm Street’s historic commitment to musical and liturgical excellence, three new pieces of music were performed by the choir under the direction of David Graham (pictured below). The CD issued to celebrate its half-century as a parish includes works that are both familiar and popular, alongside curiosities and some motets that are believed to be unique to Farm Street and Sacred Heart Church in Wimbledon.

The authenticity of the setting of Ave Maria by Max Bruch, for instance, was only recently discovered. Copies of the motet hand-written by Fr John Driscoll SJ (1865-1940) have been handed down and it has always been a popular motet at both Farm Street and at Sacred Heart Church in Wimbledon. Driscoll (right) adapted music from diverse sources and superimposed Latin texts on them; and his collections of ‘Modern Motets Sung at Farm Street Church’ from c. 1929–1933, amount to eight volumes of hand-written scores. Meanwhile, Karl Koch’s Jubilate Deo on the CD is almost certainly unique to Farm Street and Sacred Heart and is typical of late 19th century German Romanticism.

First and rarely heard works

The setting of Tota pulchra es Maria was given its first performance at Farm Street on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in December 2012. It was written by Gabriel Jackson (born 1962), one of Britain’s leading contemporary composers and was specially commissioned by Farm Street Church. Jackson’s second piece on Both God's and Mary's Son was commissioned to commemorate the 200th Anniversary of the Restoration of the Society of Jesus in 2014 and features words taken from The Blessed Virgin Compared To The Air We Breathe by Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ.

Farm Street's Choirmaster, David GrahamGeorge Malcolm’s setting of Veritas Mea (Offertory for the Feast of St Ignatius) owes something to the influence of Farm Street that he reputedly brought to Westminster Cathedral, where he was Choirmaster from 1947 to 1951; while other music on the CD goes back over 100 years or so and demonstrates a preference for German and French 19th and 20th century composers. Some of these compositions are rarely heard in London churches, and include works penned by composers such as Josef Rheinberger (1839 – 1901) and Alexander Gretchaninoff (1864 – 1956) who studied music under Rimsky-Korsakov.

The CD Both God’s and Mary’s Son was recorded by Hoxa whose clients have included Classic FM, the BBC and other churches with great musical traditions, such as St Martin in the Fields and St John’s Smith Square. It is available from the bookshop at Farm Street Church or at reception (114 Mount Street, London W1K 3AH). It can also be ordered online from Amazon and from independent music stores, including CD Baby.